Note: This is one of a series of stories by people whose lives have been affected by the misuse of opioids. Fighting the nation’s opioid crisis is one of HHS’s main priorities.
The sixth overdose was fatal. My only child Brendan died at the age of 24.
He and some friends started messing around with pot when he was 13. By the age of 14, he got oxycodone pills from a friend, and by 16, he was addicted to heroin.
I grieved for my son for years before he died. As difficult as talking about this is, if I can help one person not die, this is worth it.
I think when Brendan was small, I thought he would try drinking and smoking pot. I was not prepared for opioid abuse.
I noticed pretty quickly that something was wrong. We were very close but then he became distant. He wouldn’t obey curfews and would disappear until 3 or 4 a.m.; he would skip school. I went from having a straight A student to I-didn’t-know-who-he-was. I’d find pieces of burnt aluminum foil, bent spoons and razor blades – all indications of drug paraphernalia – around the house.
I tried to get the juvenile court system involved. I was desperate for someone to help.
At 17, Brendan was ordered by a court to a juvenile treatment program. He earned his GED there, with a very high score—he missed only one question. It was so frustrating: He could have gotten a scholarship and gone to college, but he chose drugs as his teacher instead.
In a moment of clarity, Brendan finally told his dad he was tired of his addiction, and said he wanted to go into inpatient treatment. But he was on Medicaid and we couldn’t find any treatment beds available for a Medicaid beneficiary. If I had $5,000 to pay for private care, it would have been different.
We found a faith-based group that operated a residential program that would help him. On Dec. 29, 2015, we went there, but Brendan needed a blood screen before he could be admitted and we were not able to get to a lab then. He then planned to enter treatment on Jan.4, 2016.
On New Year’s Day, we went bowling and had dinner out. I had had the best week in a long time with him. For the first time I had hope. We had hope. He told me, “Mom, I know what you think I’m doing and I don’t want to do that anymore.”
But the disease told him he could get high one more time.
When I got up the next morning, I looked in his room and saw that the blankets had not been disturbed. There was a light on in the bathroom, but no answer. Something was blocking the door—it was his body. I called 911.
But it was too late. The sixth overdose was fatal.
As hard as it had been to see him in shackles and chains when he got in trouble, to see him being removed from our home in a body bag was beyond words. I’d like to say it gets easier but it doesn’t. I was so angry because he was close to getting treatment.
We need more outpatient and inpatient treatment for people who have substance use disorders. There needs to be more education in schools.
My son started abusing drugs at 13. He didn’t understand where it could take him. And he didn’t understand that I will live with the heart-breaking consequences of his actions for the rest of my life. This is what one bad decision can do.
I know the government is working to solve the opioid crisis. It just is not happening quickly enough.
I now talk to students and families about the dangers of prescription and illicit opioid abuse and visit recovery centers and jails, as well as work with the governor of my state to prevent further deaths. I have also started a faith-based nonprofit that is a safe house for women who are withdrawing and helps them find inpatient treatment and other resources. I also established a scholarship in Brendan’s honor for women in need at Liberty Place Recovery Center, in Richmond, Kentucky.
I will share Brendan’s story until I take my last breath and hope that he did not die in vain. That is why I share the 911 call.
If you or someone you know has a problem with heroin or the misuse of opioid-based prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine and morphine, call the National Helpline at (800) 662-HELP (4357) or visit http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov to find the nearest treatment facility.
The Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit and other resources can be found at https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/useful-resources-opioid-overdose-prevention