Two Fla. Moms Are Helping Fight the Rise in Opioid Deaths: 'We're Facing a Disaster'
Cindy Singer and Staci Katz founded Our2Sons after seeing their sons struggle with substance abuse
Helping people cope with their addictions can be difficult in the best of times, but it’s a job made infinitely harder during a pandemic.
South Florida alone has been a devil’s playground since COVID-19 came to town, prying people in recovery from their shaky foundations of jobs, housing and medical care. Although drug overdoses have spiked nationally, Florida has been hit especially hard: Overdose deaths have increased by at least 50 percent in the state this year, according to the initiative Project Opioid.
“First we have an opioid epidemic and then we have a pandemic," Cindy Singer, 63, tells PEOPLE. “Everything this virus has created is that much worse for people who are struggling with addiction.”
Singer and friend Staci Katz — two “moms on a mission,” as they call themselves — are meeting the challenges via their Palm Beach County-based nonprofit Our2Sons, which is dedicated to helping people in recovery from substance use.
The women created Our2Sons as an enduring tribute to their children: Singer’s 28-year-old son Rory lost his life to an overdose in 2015; Katz’s son Dillon, 28, continues to fight his addiction, which began in his teens.
Singer and Katz, 56, spend their days and nights throwing lifelines to people — mostly young adults, mostly destitute — who have just emerged from treatment and must find a way to navigate the world, or who, due to the pandemic, are finding themselves “white knuckling” their sobriety, as Katz terms it.
“With COVID, a lot of the sober homes have closed, food pantries are drying up and other resources are gone,” says Katz. “People have a greater sense of hopelessness and are in greater danger of relapse and overdose.”
The facts bear out those fears: More than 40 states have reported a rise in opioid-related deaths, and in Florida, it’s projected that by year’s end, 55 people will die of an overdose every day, according to Project Opioid.
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The women spend upwards of 50 hours a week arranging transportation; distributing food, clothing and toiletries; helping with payment for medicine (but never handing over cash); and offering advice and an empathetic ear. Since its inception in January 2018, Our2Sons has helped more than 400 individuals and families on a small budget funded by donations (about $28,000 last year).
Their days often begin before their feet even touch the floor as they field calls and texts from the needy. Along with several other local moms who’ve been impacted personally by addiction, they keep each other apprised via a group text, figuring out how to allocate resources.
"They don’t just help people get the services they need,” says Palm Beach County drug czar John Hulick, “they bring love and caring to what really have become the disposables of our society.”
Singer and Katz might arrange transportation to facilities for people who urgently need detox or rides to jobs — “if they’re lucky enough to have one,” says Katz.
They’ve even supplemented rents for sober housing, helped with funerals and purchased urns for families who didn’t have the funds to ship home their loved ones’ remains after an overdose.
“This is a family disease,” says Singer, “and some have gone through every penny they have to help their kids.”
The women say their own life experiences — professional as well as personal — have reduced their learning curve as they’ve leaned into running Our2Sons. Singer, a former middle-school principal, and Katz, a retired police officer, are both transplanted New Yorkers — and “we are not pushovers,” says Singer. “I’m not a give-up person and neither is Staci. We will fight to the end for the people we love and for our communities. These are all somebody’s children.”
Anna Harden met Singer and Katz in spring 2018 when the two women came to the South Florida treatment center where Harden was a resident to talk about Our2Sons. After 10 years of opioid use, including heroin, she felt worthless, stuck and alone, Harden says. And she was pregnant.
“Everybody in my life was maxed out on helping financially and emotionally — they were just done with it,” she says.
Singer and Katz told Harden about their two sons. They told her she could call them anytime and they’d help her.
“I thought they were two angels, honestly,” Harden says.
She reached out, and they did help her.
“They brought me clothes, a car seat and groceries when I needed them,” she says.
Our2Sons paid for rides to Harden’s doctor appointments, “and when I went into labor I didn’t know anybody, so I called Cindy and Staci," she recalls.
Now Harden, 28, is nearly three years in recovery (daughter Maddie is 2), living in a North Carolina sober community and working toward a degree in substance-abuse counseling. She still enjoys the emotional support — and occasional care package of diapers or children’s clothing — from Our2Sons, and the women point to her as an example of why Our2Sons exists.
“If we can help one person, we’ve helped many,” says Singer. “Like Anna — she can be a good mother to her daughter, a good daughter herself and a good citizen in the world. It’s a ripple effect.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.
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