I stood in a quite sizable crowd at the Ohio Statehouse as part of an elated group of relatives, friends, and other well wishers who had gathered in Columbus to witness the official appointment of Dr. Terry Johnson to the 89th seat of the Ohio House of Representatives. The impressive oath of office ceremony had just concluded in chambers, and the spectators had spilled into the rotunda to pose for photos with Dr. Johnson.
I reflected on my first meeting with Dr. Terry Johnson when he had invited me to become a member of the Scioto County Rx Drug Task Force Action Team, a group formed to respond to the epidemic of drug addiction, overdose death, crime and social disruption in our county. As county coroner, Dr. Johnson, through forensic investigation, had identified the incredible number of drug-related deaths due to a mix of prescription painkillers and nerve pills — drugs that must be obtained from a licensed provider. As a result of the findings, he became a leader in the fight against drug abuse and pain clinics that have been involved in widespread distribution.
Today was a very special day for Terry, a day of personal celebration after a hard-fought victory in the November 2010 elections. As the photographers recorded the event, I thought about Colonel Johnson and his outstanding record of service: his three tours of duty in the Global War on Terror, his appointment as Joint Forces State Surgeon and State Surgeon of the Ohio Army Guard, his work as Director of the Family Practice Residency at Southern Ohio Medical Center, and his charge as Assistant Dean of Ohio University's College of Osteopathic Medicine.
As part of the large crowd of supporters, I felt great confidence that Dr. Johnson would be an outstanding, industrious leader in the Ohio House. I was honored that he had invited me to share this special day. And, I was also proud that we had elected an honest, industrious representative.
After several minutes mingling in the crowd, I found my attention drawn to a group of SOLACE members from Scioto County. The Surviving Our Loss And Continuing Everyday contingent shares one common bond: each of the members of the support group has lost a loved one to a drug related death. Newly-elected Governor John Kasich had graciously arrived to join the group.
Before too long, I saw Governor Kasich embrace Barbara Howard, a member of SOLACE, and I knew immediately something very special was taking place. I watched as the governor, on his first day of office, consoled a tearful mother who had been faced with accepting the loss of her daughter, Leslie Dawn Cooper.
Leslie had struggled with her addictions for years before dying at age 34 of an overdose of oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, on October 3, 2009. The night before, she had paid $250 in cash for the prescription at an alleged pill mill in Portsmouth, then took it to a pharmacy in Columbus, 85 miles away, because no local pharmacist would fill it.
On Cooper's way home she called Barbara and said she was going to church. "I said, 'OK, I love you, and I'll talk to you later,''' her mother said. "I got the call the next morning at 8 a.m. that she was dead.''
Since her daughter's death, Barbara has fought fearlessly for legislation against drug abuse not only because of her own tragic loss but also because of her concern over the many needless deaths due to overdose she has witnessed. She is a mother forever deprived of God's most blessed gift determined to make her daughter's passing more than just a loss in vain.
Here I stood, in a building where President Abraham Lincoln had lain in state, where future presidents William McKinley and Rutherford B. Hayes and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Salmon P. Chase had served as governor, and I felt I had just been privileged to witness a piece of living history. I honestly wondered if any other embrace offered in the statehouse had ever meant more.
The image of this mother being hugged by the chief executive of the State of Ohio will forever linger in my memory. The meaning of those moments is impossible to verbalize. I can only imagine the emotions Barbara felt in the arms of an important public official after suffering so long with her unbearable ordeal. Soon after her encounter with Governor Kasich, I also hugged her trembling body and looked into her tear-stained, smiling face, and I believe in her countenance, I saw an angelic likeness of Leslie. Nothing will convince me this event was coincidence.
"With God, all things are possible." - Matthew Chapter 29, Verse 26
The Motto of the State of Ohio