Updated: Jul 24
By Ryan's mom, Janice
Ryan Richard Cowger
A Caring Counselor’s Life Derails Over Pain Medication
Ryan was a 4.0 student who found his calling assisting and counseling young men with disabilities in Fresno, CA. He was a smart, caring person who had a love for life, and was an all-around beautiful human being. Ryan’s favorite pastimes were playing his guitar and reading. He was an incredible guitar player; I remember sending him to guitar lessons when he was in junior high, and after just a few classes he told me, “Mom, I need to give this instructor lessons.” Needless to say, Ryan did not go back. Later, he joined a few bands, one of which toured around California and sold a few CDs.
In his late 20’s, Ryan developed kidney stones, and to ease the pain of passing them, an emergency department doctor prescribed him 90 pills of oxycodone. The opioids seemed to flip a switch and within months, Ryan was buying more pills on the street. His addiction spiraled down from there.
Ryan knew he was in trouble and without telling us, he started seeking treatment at a methadone clinic. It was not until I found some pills in his room and questioned him about them that Ryan decided it was time to tell us the truth. Ryan told me he was scared and knew he needed more intensive treatment.
After that, Ryan underwent two years of Suboxone outpatient treatment. For a short time, he was clean, getting healthy again and on the road towards recovery. In an attempt to stay away from some of his old “friends” and dealers, Ryan decided he wanted to move to Oregon. We put Ryan on an Amtrak bound for Oregon, not realizing that would be the last time we saw our child.
Ryan had been in Oregon for about a year, working for the Portland Rescue Mission as a cook. He was living in a transitional housing program, while he waited for an apartment to open up. In December 2014, Ryan was taken to a local hospital and underwent emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix. Again, the doctors prescribed him oxycodone. I cried when I found out that he did not tell the doctors that he had an opioid addiction. Ryan told me he was fine, and taking the medication as prescribed. I don’t think Ryan realized or wanted to realize that by taking these pills again, it would reignite his demons.
On January 13, 2015, a staff member at the transitional housing program found Ryan in the shower. He had overdosed on heroin. Ryan was 32 years old.
My child died alone on a cold shower floor!
I have never tried to hide the fact that opiates caused my son’s death. I talk about it with anyone that is interested. I want to help other families and don’t want to see others go through this gut-wrenching pain.
Within a few months of Ryan’s death, I connected with other mothers who had lost children to an overdose or have a child in recovery. Together, we are working on legislation to expand access to the overdose reversal medication, naloxone.
The city of Fresno seems to feel that the additional training and cost is not warranted, saying “we do not feel there have been enough deaths in the city from opiates to warrant the cost involved with the reversal drug Narcan.” But one life lost to this epidemic is tragic and heartbreaking to that family and the community. One life lost is one too many.
First responders have to maintain CPR certifications, which requires four hours of retraining every 2 years. Narcan nasal spray training would be only an additional two hours. Further, the cost of Narcan is relatively cheap at approximately $36.00 per dose, according to Fresno’s Department of Health.
I don’t want Ryan’s death to be in vain.
August 12, 2016, would have been Ryan’s 33rd birthday. Our family scattered his ashes at sea near Pismo Beach, his favorite place. It was a perfect day, with sightings of seals, dolphins, and whales. It was a beautiful sight. I felt Ryan was there with us. We miss him every day. I don’t think this pain will ever go away. I would give anything to have my child back.