By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
MARLBOROUGH – Cheryl Juaire of Marlborough has advocated for overdose awareness since 2015 when she founded Team Sharing, Inc. The national nonprofit offers support to families who have lost a child to substance use disorder.
Juaire lost two sons to opioid overdose. Now, she and Team Sharing are striving to make available a Massachusetts license plate designed with the message “Overdose Awareness” and the organization’s logo.
“We’re hoping these plates will strike up a conversation and end the stigma around addiction,” she explained. “Once we’re able to strike up conversations with people, then we can eventually lead them to different resources.”
Collecting license plate applications
Team Sharing began sending plate applications earlier this year to their Massachusetts chapter members.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles requires at least 750 applications before the “Overdose Awareness” plates will get manufactured.
“When we first started sharing about this, everybody was very excited,” Juaire said. “We sent out hundreds and hundreds of applications but didn’t get a whole lot back. We got about 250 applications and still need about 500.”
She and other Team Sharing representatives are distributing applications via social media as well as in-person at community events.
Sharing personal experiences
Along the way, Juaire openly discusses her sons’ battles with addiction to help other families.
Her son, Corey Merrill, died of a heroin overdose in 2011 at age 23.
A few years later, Juaire sought support via a Facebook group where she communicated with mothers of active addicts. Among the lessons Juaire learned from them, she said, was that addiction is a disease.
“I’ve learned so much about the disease of addiction,” she acknowledged. “I had to forgive myself because Corey had tried to explain it to me. I wouldn’t listen because I thought it was a choice. I’ve had to live with that since he died.”
On June 25 of this year, Juaire’s son Sean Merrill died at age 42 of an overdose of prescribed pain pills.
“Sean had used drugs with Corey,” Juaire shared. “It took three years after Corey died for Sean to get into Teen Challenge, a 15-month Christian rehab. He did amazingly well in the program, so much so that they hired him and he worked there for about three years. Sean was in recovery for five years. He relapsed in 2018.”
Team Sharing in the news
Less than two weeks after Sean died, Juaire resumed publicly advocating on behalf of Team Sharing.
On July 8, she appeared at a press conference alongside Gov. Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey.
There, Healey formally announced the resolution of the state’s lawsuit against the Sackler family and their pharmaceutical company, Purdue Pharma. Massachusetts is expected to receive $90 million of a $4.3 billion settlement.
At the press conference, Juaire said in part, “I, like the hundreds of thousands of families out there who have lost a loved one, have waited for justice for those that created this epidemic. Today, Team Sharing stands here in support of the agreements that have been reached in the Purdue Pharma case.
“I’m grateful because money is going to be used toward treatment, prevention, education and compensation in the hopes that not one more parent has to bury their child,” she continued.
Juaire had previously organized a protest outside the Purdue Pharma headquarters in Stamford, Conn. in 2018.
Making a valuable investment
The “Overdose Awareness” plate application can be downloaded at Team Sharing’s website. Applications should be returned to Team Sharing with a $40 check, which won’t be cashed until 750 applications are received.
Juaire feels that the fee is a valuable investment.
“It’s only $40 every two years – that’s a few cents a day,” Juaire said. “Once we get the initial 750 applications, I think you’ll see these plates on a lot of cars. Everybody has been touched by addiction and overdose in one way or another.”
Download the application at teamsharinginc.org/ma-overdose-awareness-plate.