By Mark Powell
The Story of a Mother on a Mission: Save Children from Addiction
The small community of Ashland in Oregon’s Rogue Valley was rocked by addiction six years ago. Andrew, Colin, Jordan and Max were local young men who shared a sad link. All four died of an overdose within six months of each other.
Julia Pinsky’s son Max was one of them. He was 25. Max hadn’t been using heroin for long, but Julia says it was a “rapid downhill escalation, a speed train.” In fact, his parents weren’t even aware Max was home the day he died until they found him unresponsive.
Like some who experience such a deep loss, Julia didn’t want to talk to anyone. But she spent a lot of time online doing research. She kept coming across references to naloxone again and again and couldn’t help wondering, “If many of us had naloxone, maybe it would have been different?”
But Julia couldn’t find anyone in her area who knew about it, much less had any. And that frustrated her.
“Naloxone wasn’t easy to get in our community,“ she says. “If you were at a clinic, there was a very slight chance that naloxone was available. It was really a long shot though, and no one had any to spare.”
Three years after Max died, Julia connected with Dr. Tim Shames, Jackson County Director/Health Officer, who invited her to a naloxone workgroup meeting. Mainly health care professionals attended, along with pharmacists, doctors, nurses and a few people in recovery. I wanted to make a difference to help prevent other families locally to feel the same loss my husband and I had experienced.” With not much funding and a bit of know how David and Julia Pinsky launched a Go Fund me to create a nonprofit dedicated to overdose education and FREE naloxone distribution in Southern Oregon.
There are many ways to help with addiction, but Julia kept coming back to the importance of saving a life. “You can’t go to treatment if you’re dead,” she notes. Max’s Mission was officially founded soon after in November 2016.
Max’s Mission gives out naloxone and educates the public about its benefits. “Before we started, no one even knew how to pronounce the word naloxone,” she says.
Laws changed allowing for easier access to naloxone, but the cost makes it inaccessible to many people. Yet the group knew the need for it was huge. So they started holding more meetings and providing more training. Through grants, recovery organizations, partnerships with treatment centers and clinics, and donations, they’re able to keep giving out naloxone. In the first eight months of 2019, the group trained over 600 people and distributed 815 free doses of naloxone and 175 fentanyl test strips.
Despite its success, it’s still difficult for the general public to get naloxone. While it is more readily available in metro areas such as Portland, Max’s Mission frequently gets calls from all over the state from people wanting it.
“We still get pushback because people don’t grasp just how important it is to save a life,” Julia says in conclusion. “As parents, we want to spare others this terrible loss. As long as there’s a demand, Max’s Mission will go on.”
Max's Mission was a featured award winner in the 2019 Innovation Now project of the Addiction Policy Forum.
J. Mark Powell is an author, former network journalist, and veteran communications expert.