Spenser’s Voice Hopes to Reduce Stigma Surrounding Addiction
Feb 27, 2019 12:45PM
By Kathleen Ganster
When Tina Flowers saw her 20-year-old son’s closed bedroom door, she knew something was wrong.
“We had agreed that his door was to be open. I called out to Spenser, and he didn’t answer. When I opened the door, he was on the floor—gray. I knew he was gone,” she said.
It was New Year’s Day 2017 and Spenser Flowers was dead from an opioid overdose.
Since that day, Flowers, her husband Chris, and their older son, Sam, have made it their mission to increase awareness about the opioid epidemic and to offer hope for other families like theirs. As part of these efforts, the Hampton family created Spenser’s Voice at the Pittsburgh Foundation.
The Flowers first became aware of Spenser’s opioid use in August of 2016. “He was in a car accident and the police found unprescribed Xanax in his car. We put Spenser into private addiction counseling,” said Flowers.
Spenser was also diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression. Once he was clean from the drugs, Spenser was referred to a psychiatric practice to treat those conditions.
Shortly after, the Flowers found out disturbing news.
“In October, his counselor called us in to tell us that Spenser was using heroin,” Flowers said. His family convinced him to enter rehab and on December 15, 2016, Spenser entered an inpatient program.
A week later, he walked out.
Tina believes that when they celebrated Christmas a few days later, Spenser was clean, but on December 26, he overdosed. He was revived with Narcan, and police took the drugs they found.
“After that day, we thought we had Spenser sequestered and on lock down. He had no Internet access, no phone, and he wasn’t allowed to leave the house without us,” she said. His counselor told Spenser that he needed to go back to treatment, or he would die.
Spenser agreed, making an appointment to see his counselor for January 1. Spenser never made the appointment—Tina found him dead that morning.
Immediately, the Flowers family began thinking of ways to honor Spenser. “We decided the day Spenser died to establish a memorial,” Flowers said, using his life insurance money for funding. When they received donations from friends and family, the Flowers had to make another decision.
“Within a month after Spenser’s death we decided to establish Spenser’s Voice,” she said. “Our primary goal is to honor Spenser’s memory by supporting organizations working to fight the opioid epidemic, particularly in young adults. Our ultimate goal is to help just one person overcome their addiction.”
Flowers also makes presentations about Spenser’s battle. “These speaking engagements weren’t really something I envisioned; however, they have helped me work through my grief, and I believe we are making a difference,” she said.
Sam, a teacher at Hampton Middle School, also speaks at gatherings and events.
“Ever since Spenser passed, we have been talking about addiction for various reasons. The biggest reason that we do it is so that no one else has to go through what we went through,” he said.
Sam was recently interviewed by Hampton students for an anti-drug video and talks to his students. “I let them know that if they ever have any questions or concerns about addiction, drugs, anxiety or depression, that they are more than welcome to come discuss those matters with me,” he said. “My door is always open to them.”
It is their ongoing mission to continue assisting organizations and families that fight the opioid epidemic.
“At a bare minimum, we speak about this issue to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction to hopefully create a clearer path for addicts to find recovery,” Sam said.
For more information visit https://pittsburghfoundation.org/spenser-fund.
Hampton Community Opioid Partnership
It takes an entire community to fight the opioid epidemic, and that is the motivation behind the Hampton Community Opioid Partnership.
“It’s a grassroots organization to fight a problem that drew all of us together,” said Dr. Michel Loughead, superintendent of Hampton Township School District and one of the original organizers of the initiative.
According to Loughead, the group began in early 2018 when the district, along with other community members, began to see an alarming rate of township community members losing their battle against opioid addiction. They reached out to local physicians, law enforcement and other community members to work together to combat the pandemic.
The FBI is one of the key players in the partnership, as sponsors of the HOPE Heroin Outreach Prevention and Education Initiative.
"The Hampton Partnership is unique by allowing all community members to share equally. As the issue infiltrates our communities in different ways, information and resources can be centralized within the group. That allows everyone to provide the community with as much prevention/awareness and support as possible,” said Kelly Wesolosky, community outreach specialist with the FBI’s Pittsburgh Field Office.
So far, the partnership has hosted community awareness forums, and it continues to provide resources to those who need them. Loughead said that they hope to serve as a template for other communities.
Wesolosky agreed. “I applaud the Hampton Community Opioid Partnership for its innovative approach and hope other communities can use this model as an example of how local areas can band together and grow,” she said.
For more information on the Hampton Community Opioid Partnership, visit https://www.facebook.com/HamptonCommunityOpioidPartnership.