Their stories are both harrowing and heartbreaking. Still, at the end of the day, these tales of heroin addiction and occasionally, death by overdose, also offer some hope for anyone who attends the bi-monthly Thursday evening support group meetings at the Fauquier Hospital.

The group’s formal name is FODA, as in Families Overcoming Drug Addiction. The 90-minute sessions started only last December, but they are already attracting between 20 and 40 attendees at every meeting, proof positive that addiction has become a significant problem both in Loudoun and Fauquier counties, with heroin increasingly the drug of choice.

Moira Satre helped start the group, and when she talks about her oldest son Bobby, a graduate of then Notre Dame Academy (now Middleburg Academy), it’s difficult to hold back tears. He was 31 when he died last year from a heroin overdose, after what his mother, a long-time registered nurse, described as a frequently hellish 13-year odyssey that began with the discovery of a marijuana pipe in her son’s room the night of his senior prom.

Over the years, he was in and out of rehab programs, making progress and then relapsing. Even as he was going to community college, had landed a decent job as a sales rep and even got engaged, she said he always feared the intense heroin craving that is a byproduct of one of the planet’s most addictive substances.

During one recent FODA meeting, a young man stood up and repeated what he said he’d once told his own father. “Imagine the best sex you’ve ever had,” he said that night. “And it’s better than that.”

And far worse.

Sadly, the results of a survey taken by the Parents Resource Institute for Drug Education of 5,000 middle and high school students in Fauquier indicated that some youngsters are starting to abuse alcohol, tobacco and marijuana as early as 13. Released in March, the survey indicated that 79 students admitted to using heroin within the last year. Loudoun County reportedly has similar problems. 

Satre and two other Fauquier mothers who had lost children to fatal overdoses, Linda Franklin and Caroline Folker, became acquainted last year and decided to form a support group that could provide aid and comfort to families going through the same sort of agony they’d experienced. The sessions are led by Jo Tartt, Jr., a former Episcopal minister who left the clergy and became a highly-respected art gallery owner in Washington before moving to Warrenton several years ago.

Tartt and Linda Franklin were friends, and he was asked to join the new group’s board. He also was a natural to serve as its discussion leader, even if the discussion comes almost entirely from those attending.

“We go around the room,” Tartt said. “If someone is new, we ask if they want to say why they’re there. If they don’t, that’s fine. It’s not a religious group or a spiritual group. It’s not a treatment group. It’s a support group. The goal is to create a format where they feel comfortable enough to speak their mind, from the heart, and be with people who know what it’s like. A few have lost children. Some have kids in treatment, some kids are in jail.

“These are good people and this drug epidemic has come to families and they don’t know what to do. They go through denial. Some of them put their kids in jail because it’s the safest place for them to be.”

Satre also has formed an adjunct non-profit group called CAYA (Come as You Are) that’s trying to spread the word on addiction, and work with local law enforcement and school officials to educate the public. Her advice to parents who suspect their children might be going down the path to substance abuse is direct and to the point.

“I would go through their rooms when they’re not there,” she said. “I’d look for anything. Missing or bent spoons are signs that they are shooting up. I’d confront them and talk to them. You can almost look in their eyes and tell, and you have to have that dialogue.

“If they’re on drugs, they’ll also exhibit certain characteristics. They’ll sleep a lot, become argumentative. They don’t take care of themselves. There’s a lack of energy. It all makes sense to me now, but didn’t back then.”

That sort of vital information often comes through in the FODA support meetings.

“It’s emotional and it’s intense,” Satre said. “But people are so grateful to have a place to go where they can understand it, and hear that other people are going through the same thing.”

At a recent group meeting, a 30-something man stood up and spoke about losing his family, his business and his freedom because of heroin.

“Don’t be afraid to tell your loved ones,” he said, on a night when several teenagers were in the room. “Every day sober is ten times better than waking up trying to find the next high. I just wish I had never started.”

(Families Overcoming Drug Addiction meetings are held every first and third Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. in the Sycamore A room at Fauquier Hospital in Warrenton. For further information, call Caroline at 540-316-9221 or go to [email protected])