GREENFIELD — They found him in the bathroom that Sunday morning as they were getting ready for church, the heroin discarded near the sink after that one fatal hit.

There was nothing they could have done, the coroner told them later: Cord Tucker had already been gone for a few hours by the time first-responders arrived. The police did CPR; the medics tried shocking his heart back to life, even gave him three doses of the overdose-reversing drug, Narcan.

But he was already gone.

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Tucker’s death was ruled an accident. His opioid addiction made it onto the certificate as a contributing disease, a pre-existing condition.

Tucker’s family members tried every day for three years to keep his life from ending like this, they said: the Greenfield man did three stints in rehab, his family even let him sit in jail when his addiction led him to break the law. He sought help from local drug counseling programs, searching for something that would curb the cravings.

And yet, it wasn’t enough. The addiction, they say, was too strong.

It consumed him. It consumed all of them. Even now, not a day goes by where they don’t talk about heroin and addiction. And him — always him. Tucker had dreamed of being an attorney one day, even started college at Indiana University. He could have done it, they said — he was so smart, so outgoing.

They hope sharing Tucker’s story will help their friends and neighbors who might not have to live with these demons day in and day out, to help them gain a better understanding of how addiction can grip an entire family.

“Cord for the first two years didn’t see how bad it affected us,” his sister, Lindsey Tucker, said. “We don’t want anyone to go through what we’ve gone through.”

Path to destruction

Cord Tucker was 28 years old when he died early Feb. 5. His family members had suspicions he was using again, but they couldn’t be sure. He was holding down part-time jobs waiting tables, going to counseling. He even used his story to help others, serving as a guest speaker at a center for at-risk teens.

He was willing to help others, even when he couldn’t help himself.

A drug screen after his death showed he’d taken a lethal dose of heroin laced with fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that’s said to be 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

He was always chasing a more intense high; his friends — also users — admitted as much to family members at the memorial service.

If they’d offered to share their stash, he’d decline — it wasn’t strong enough, they told the family.

Now, a photograph takes his spot at the dinner table inside his parents’ home. A stack of Bibles sits next to it, ready to be opened in times of greatest need.

Cord Tucker’s family believes he battled addiction for at least seven years before he began confiding in his loved ones in late 2014, worried that his drug use was something he couldn’t tackle alone.

In the days after his death, they found a handwritten note detailing his decline – something they’re sure he penned during one of his visits to rehab, a testimonial to help with his counseling.

It started with marijuana and alcohol at parties as a teen, the note says. He was looking to be liked by his peers, searching for acceptance and a feeling of empowerment.

Then the pot that friends brought to parties turned to pills that made him feel more confident than ever before, he wrote. He loved that high. He searched for it.

In later years, heroin became his drug of choice. He stole money from his family — “I had so many 20s go missing, I thought I was losing my mind,” his mother, Dana Brown, remarked – anything to fund the habit.

Eventually – “homeless and hopeless,” he wrote – he turned to his family for help, and they fought through their own misunderstandings to come to terms with his disease and set up a plan to make him better, his mother said.

Cord Tucker’s family sent him to rehab three times in nearly three years. When those programs never seemed to work, his parents welcomed him into their home and set up a system of their own where he could be monitored by family members throughout the day.

They took his money away so he couldn’t buy drugs, only doling out what he needed for a trip to the store and no more. They watched his phone and social media accounts to make sure he wasn’t contacting dealers or friends he knew would have drugs. Whenever he seemed to drift, seemed quieter, seemed to be isolating himself, they peppered him with questions, demanding to know if he’d picked up that needle again.

They worshiped together; hosted Bible studies on weeknights during family dinners; joined support groups around town where they could vent their frustrations and seek advice from others who understood.

They were everything to him they could think to be, from his strongest support system to his strictest disciplinarians. He loved them for it, they know that, even cling to it now that he’s gone.

An ongoing struggle

At first, Dana Brown thought the answer was to shield her children.

She didn’t want them doing drugs, so they didn’t talk about drugs as a family, she said.

That all changed the day her son came home and showed her the needle marks in his arms.

She sat in the front seat of the family’s car, staring at him. She’d imagined such a different future for this young man she raised. She sobbed as she drove him to rehab.

He was in the passenger’s seat. He was high.

She was filled with guilt and shame and questions about what she could have done or should have done better.

From then on, heroin became an everyday word in their household. She talked with her other children about heroin’s dangers, about how it can take hold and alter your mind. She shared her son’s story with friends and encouraged them to tell others.

She was honest about the times he failed and the times he fought back. When he was tempted, he used to run laps around the house, desperate to burn off the energy. Stand on the porch, he begged his loved ones; make sure I don’t leave.

She likes to think her son would have gotten clean eventually.

She’s decided to forgive the dealer who took her baby away. That nameless, faceless figure, whose fate won’t bring him back, she said.

She has to let go of all her anger in order to get through the day. To deal with the pain of it all.

Sometimes, she still can’t.

“Yesterday, I couldn’t get out of bed,” she said.

Startling change

There’s a picture of Cord Tucker that his younger sister says captures his personality perfectly.

Cord is maybe 14 in the old Kodak, she said. He’s at a middle-school classmate’s birthday party — the only boy surrounded by a gaggle of girls. His arms are crossed in front of his chest, a smirk etched across his face.

“Look at him,” Lindsey Tucker whispered, examining the photo. “He thought he was so cool.”

Her brother was so preppy back then, like he popped out of an ad for a shopping mall; his hair was always perfectly in place, the brand-name clothes were never wrinkled or mismatched, she said. No matter where he was going or what he was doing, he was put together, Lindsey Tucker said.

Addiction changed all that, that boy she knew.

Lindsey Tucker has a distinct memory the first time she realized how much trouble her brother was in, she said.

She’d agreed to meet him at a friends’ house to bring him something to eat. But the person who met her at the front door looked nothing like her older brother, she said: he was shaggy and unshaven, with the hood of an old sweatshirt pulled up around his ears; she’s certain he hadn’t showered in several days.

The haggard and tired man looked so defenseless, so lost. It was almost frightening, she said.

She knew she had to help.

Rocky relationship

Dave Brown didn’t always understand his stepson’s addiction. In anger and frustration, he pushed the boy away, disappointed he’d chosen to try drugs in the first place.

It was on Dave Brown’s orders that Cord Tucker was kicked out of the family’s house the first time. That decision nearly ruined his marriage, he said; but he thought tough love would force his stepson to get clean.

About six months before Cord Tucker died, Dave Brown took him out of town on a fishing trip — a memory he now cherishes.

Being alone together forced Dave Brown — without any distractions or interruptions — to listen to his stepson describe how the drugs made him feel, how something inside him changed when he was on them, how he would give anything to make that feeling go away forever.

It was Dave Brown who found his stepson that morning. He used an old credit card to jimmy the lock of the bathroom door open when knew something was wrong.

He tried to remain calm, he said, ushering his grandkids to a living room where he knew they’d be out of the way, distracting them with cartoons as he called 911.

A former classmate of Dave Brown’s responded with the fire department that morning, and he whispered to him as the medics made their way up the stairs, “Please. Please do anything you can to help my son,” he said.

Thinking back on all those arguments, he wonders if tough love was the right way to handle it. Should he have taken a gentler approach, softened his tone?

They are questions he’ll never be able to answer.

“If I had a do-over, I would have done it with more love and more grace,” Dave Brown said, his voice cracking a bit as he spoke. “My son did not choose this. He didn’t want it. It’s not who he was.”

How to get help

Celebrate Recovery

About: Celebrate Recovery is a Christian-based 12-step recovery program.

Meetings: Thursday evening beginning with large group meeting from 6:30-7:30 p.m. followed by support groups from 7:30-8:30 p.m. at Brandywine Community Church, 1551 E. New Road, Greenfield. The program also offers free child care for children infants to age 12 beginning at 6:45.

Contact: Director Gina Colclazier, 317-462-4777.

The Landing

About: The Landing is a recovery program for teens ages 13 to 19 who are struggling with poor decision-making, addiction.

Meetings: 6 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Wednesdays at The Landing Place, 18 W. South St., in Greenfield. Gatherings include dinner, an open-mic night and counseling sessions.

Contact: Director Linda Ostewig, 317-525-7791.

Community Behavioral Health

About: Community Behavioral Health, formerly Gallahue Mental Health Services, a program of Community Health Network of Indiana, specializes in addiction treatment. The center’s therapists offer individual and group counseling.

Meetings: Sessions take place by appointment at 145 Green Meadows Drive, Suite 1, Greenfield.

Contact: To schedule an appointment, call 317-318-7100.

The Way Out Club

About: The Way Out Club offers Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

Meetings: AA and NA meetings take place throughout the day, every day of the week at the clubhouse, 226 Cherry St., Greenfield. For a full list of meeting times, visit wayoutclub.org.

Contact: For more information, call 317-468-0082 or email board@wayoutclub.org.

Healing Hearts

About: Healing Hearts is newly founded local support group that meets monthly and provides peer counseling to the families and friends of addicts.

Meetings: 7 p.m. on the second Monday of the month at The Landing Place, 18 South St., Greenfield.

Contact: For more information, call 317-525-7791.

SMART Recovery

About: SMART Recovery helps people recover from addiction and addictive behaviors, including drug abuse, drug addiction, substance abuse, alcohol abuse, gambling addiction, sexual addiction and problem addiction to other substances and activities by using lessons based on scientific research.

Meetings: 9 a.m. Saturdays in Classroom 1 at Hancock Regional Hospital, 801 N. State St. Contact: For more information, call 317-626-7719.

Benefit planned

Cord Tucker’s family, along with a group of community stakeholders, will host a fundraiser to benefit the Hancock County Probation Department’s heroin protocol, an initiative that aims at getting opiate addicts treatment as they serve time for low-level crimes.

The program has aided more than a dozen offenders since its inception last year, but it is fighting for funding to help cover the costs of an addict’s stay in a local halfway house.

Community members are invited to attend the program from 5-9 p.m. March 18 at Lincoln Square Pancake House, 118 W. Main St., Greenfield.

Dinner will be served. Guest speakers throughout the evening will share their stories of overcoming addiction and leaders of various local organizations will discuss treatment program available within the county.

Donations of any amount are welcome. Raffles will also be held to collect funding. Attendees can also commit to sponsor an addict’s time in the heroin protocol by making a contribution of $125 to cover a one-week stay in a halfway house or $250 to cover a two-week stay.

All proceeds will be given to Mental Health Partners of Hancock County, which helps fund the heroin protocol.

Signs of addiction

Here are some signs to watch for if you suspect someone close to you is dealing with a serious addiction:

– Drastic changes in appearance, including deteriorating hygiene or physical appearance

– Changes in relationship; lashing out against those closest to them, particularly someone trying to confront their substance abuse problems

– Secret keeping; suffering unexplained injuries or accidents

– Withdrawal from group activities, spending less time on things that used to be important

– Serious risk-taking to obtain a drug of choice

– Increased tolerance for a drink or drug

– Continued use despite negative consequences

Source: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Author photo
Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.