Families who lost children to overdose appear in movie

This story appeared on June 26, 2015 in The Gardner News. 

On a bitterly cold, snowy day in January — the type of day when most people would stay home — Gwen Phelps of Westminster and her husband, Michael, braced themselves and made an early morning journey to St. Williams Catholic Church in Tewksbury.

There, they acted as extras in the funeral scene of the newly released film “If Only,” about two teenage boys who experimented with, and then become addicted to, drugs.

Except they, like everyone else there, didn’t have to act. They knew exactly what it was like to don black and sit at a loved one’s funeral. Just one month prior, their son, Jacob Phelps, 24, had died from an overdose.

“It was very moving. Everyone was very serious, very somber,” said Ms. Phelps. “I remember thinking, ‘Are you kidding me? This happened to all of us?’ And this is just the tip of the iceberg, too.”

At the end of the film, all of the extras were shown one family at a time holding a picture of the loved one they lost. The Phelps, Fletcher and Dunn families all represented the Gardner area.

“From this small area there were three families representing,” said Michelle Dunn, who founded the AED Foundation after her daughter, Alyssa, passed away in 2013. “I think that says a lot about the problem in the area.”

Though each family had their own story, they all hoped that by standing there they would break down the stigma, educate and prevent another opiate death.

“I hope the movie reaches young people. We’re losing a generation with kids thinking it’s OK to experiment when they don’t know,” said Ms. Phelps. “They are playing Russian roulette…My son started at 15.

“I hope when at the end they see that these are actual people, it resonates.”

On Thursday, Ms. Dunn held a small community viewing of the half-hour film at Alyssa’s Place: Peer Recovery and Resource Center.

The film starts with a high school student, Isaac, being pressured by his best friends to go to a party and bring some of his mother’s pills. He lies to his mother, goes and takes a handful of pills.

Days later, he takes some more pills a friend offers him and then starts stealing out of his mother’s medicine cabinet. His mother notices he is acting weird.

When he nods off during dinner, a side effect of being high, she has the doctor drug test him. When his results come back negative, she sends him to rehab.

Meanwhile, Isaac’s friend, Connor, keeps using. The day Isaac leaves rehab, Connor passes away in his room with a needle in his arm.
“When we’re young, we think we’re invincible,” Jeffrey said at Connor’s funeral. “We’re not.”

Both Ms. Dunn and Ms. Phelps hope the film will be screened at local middle and high schools, for both students and parents.

“I think the film is fantastic,” said Ms. Dunn. “And I think it could and should be showing in the schools…and parents should be mandated to see it.”

Alyssa’s Place is open three nights a week and holds at least one community event a month. For more information, go to aedfoundationinc.org.


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