Parents who lost son to overdose turn grief into 'something positive'
BY MIKE RUTLEDGE | ENQUIRER STAFF WRITER
FORT MITCHELL - Carol and Cliff Wagner didn't collapse in grief after losing a son. They launched an assault on drug abuse.
Their son, Chad Wagner, died in Cincinnati a year ago May 20 from a heroin overdose. He was 37.
Friday, two billboards they created went up in drug-ridden areas close to where Chad died: Vine and Hollister streets in Clifton Heights and Elm and McMicken streets in Over-the-Rhine.
The billboards rose on the anniversary of their son's burial.
"Isn't it amazing?" Carol Wagner asked Friday at her Fort Mitchell home. "I didn't realize that until this morning."
The anti-drug billboards, donated by Lamar Advertising, include a photo of Chad Wagner and two phone numbers: a 24-hour help line for addicts and a number to anonymously report drug activity to the Regional Narcotics Unit.
The Wagners, both in their mid-60s, have created the Foxfire Foundation and are working to make it a charitable non-profit organization.
Cliff Wagner, who sells new furniture and restored antiques, is using experience from his "Hands at Work" local cable show about furniture restoration into making anti-drug videos.
The parents of four have spent their own money making 30-minute videos that have aired on Northern Kentucky's Insight Channel 21.
"My husband is working very hard on the Foxfire Foundation because that's how he's dealing with the grief," Carol Wagner said. "He can't talk about it. He deals with it by trying to turn it into something positive."
Carol has spoken to more than 300 Northern Kentucky students about drugs. The foundation soon will start selling drug-information kits for $60 plus shipping, slightly above the production costs. Profits will go back to the foundation.
Foxfire has twin goals of "educating the public that drug addiction is a disease and to help people that are heading down that road," Carol Wagner said.
"A big thing with me is to try to get people to stop judging," she said. "Because if somebody had cancer, they wouldn't call them 'cancer.' They'd say 'That man with cancer.'
"Drug addicts are so much more than drug addicts. And they don't want to be drug addicts."
On the other hand, "I am not discounting that people who use drugs do a lot of bad things," including stealing to support their habits, she said.
Foxfire's advisory board includes 12 Northern Kentucky community and business leaders, including Jim Liles, executive director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force.
"I think they're trying to hit all the targets, from young kids, on up to teenagers, to adults," Liles said about the Wagners, whose commitment impresses him. He noted: "I don't sit on too many boards."
"Sometimes, we see families that have tragedies like that, and they want to kind of keep it secret and hide it, because they're ashamed," Liles said. "It's unusual to see somebody like this."
Northern Kentucky heroin use is increasing, he said.
"We have been seeing black-tar heroin and brown-powder heroin in larger quantities, and we have made a couple of arrests. So far this year, we have probably bought more heroin - maybe a total of 10 or 12 ounces, which is more than we've probably bought in the last 10 years the unit's been working."
One day, Carol Wagner called Tom Fahey, Lamar Advertising's vice president and general manager.
"She may save many, many people, I don't know," Fahey said. "But she will help some mother not go through what she's had to go through. There's no doubt about that."