Families Against Drug Deaths Offers Support During the Opioid Epidemic

Several local mothers have formed a coalition in order to save more lives.

FADD’s Wendy Monaghan (left) and Sara DeFelice Moyher//Photo by Tessa Marie Images

Talking about her dead son doesn’t make Wendy Monaghan cry. On an overcast afternoon at the New Leaf Club in Rosemont, she dispassionately doles out the highlights of the low points in her son’s life: car accident, OxyContin prescription, heroin, jail, rehab, more drugs, jail, rehab. After years of trying to help her son, Monaghan reached the point all too familiar to people who love addicts. “I had to save my other two kids,” she says. “Ryan’s addiction could’ve destroyed our whole family.”

But mothers never give up on their kids, even when the kids give up on themselves. Monaghan held out hope until the night she got a call from Newtown Square police. A friend found her son’s body in his apartment, dead from a bad batch of heroin. He was 27 years old. He died in 2011, and this Memorial Day marks the sixth anniversary of his death.

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Monaghan talks about it calmly because she talks about it a lot. Two years after her son died, she created Ryan’s Hope, an eight-week grief workshop for parents. In 2016, she established Ryan’s House, a sober living facility for men. There, and seemingly everywhere she turns, Monaghan meets parents like her—upper-middle-class Main Liners blown to pieces by the addictions of their kids.

It happened to the three women sitting with Monaghan at New Leaf. Sara DeFelice Moyher, Nancy Marcus Newman and Leslie Padilla, all of whom live in Newtown Square, had their families imploded by the homegrown terrors of opioids and heroin. In January 2017, they united to form Families Against Drug Deaths, a nonprofit aimed at increasing awareness and providing resources to the local community. Modeled on parent-powered groups like MADD, FADD originated when Moyher spoke to Monaghan about her own experiences. It wasn’t easy being the little sister of the high school drug dealer.

Jeremy DeFelice’s substance issues began when he started drinking alcohol in elementary school. By middle school, DeFelice was smoking pot. During his freshman year of high school, he graduated to dealing pot and cocaine. A year or so later, Moyher’s parents asked her about DeFelice’s altered behavior and increased cash flow. “I didn’t want to tell on him and have him mad at me, but I had to tell them what I knew,” she recalls. “And I knew a lot.”

DeFelice’s downward spiral mirrors that of Ryan Monaghan: drugs, jail, rehab, more drugs, jail, rehab. He died of a speedball overdose at age 23 in 1992. For years, the DeFelices tried everything they could to save their son. “But parents don’t really know what to do,” Newman says. “We listen to experts and spend whatever money they tell us to spend. Treatment often doesn’t work.”

Malibu, Tennessee, Utah, Massachusetts—these women spent thousands of dollars sending their kids to addiction treatment facilities across the country. Some programs worked, but then their kids came home and reintegrated into the social situations that enabled their addictions in the first place. Padilla has seen epic rehab failures. “When you send your kid to rehab for the first time, he goes in with a B.A. and comes out with a Ph.D.,” she says. “The more they go into jail or rehab, the more they learn from others there. They go in having done heroin and come out knowing what concoctions they can make from what’s in the medicine cabinet.”

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Monaghan wants to see more sober living centers on the Main Line. Newman agrees. Creating pre- and post-rehab housing is one of the goals of the Bridge Foundation, which she started in 2010 using lessons learned from her sons’ substance abuse. “Now, I’d never take a recommendation from a therapist without thinking and praying on it,” Newman says.

FADD’s founders want to facilitate parent-to-parent conversations like the one taking place at New Leaf. “There are 10 things we could write down that we didn’t know before we sat here today,” Padilla says. “I can take all of this information and put it into a document that we put out to our networks.”

Monaghan agrees that sharing parent-sourced information is important. But she’s quieter than the other FADD founders. She’s the only one who’s lost a child. Even though Ryan died of what many consider a self-inflicted wound, he’s not just a dead junkie. He’s her son, her first baby. And no person or family should experience such struggle.

That’s where FADD comes in, so life doesn’t take that turn.

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