Addiction: A mother mourns

July 5, 2014 

Today would have been my son's 32nd birthday. Instead of celebrating with him and his younger brother, I will be visiting his grave. We all have heard of and seen countless tragedies in which someone dies a needless death. I am sure this letter won't mean much to some of you, but I feel compelled to share a bit of my son's story so that it might stop just one person, convince one young soul, to seek help or provide the encouragement to a friend to speak up and help.

We hear so much about violent death and destruction, most of which relates to open hostility and violence acts, shootings and stabbings, even rape, but too little is spoken of another killer and that murderous substance is heroin.

As a woman of the 60's and 70's, my generation thought of heroin addicts as skid-row street bums, toothless, homeless vagabond, drooling on street corners, selling their bodies to get the next fix. That stereotype could not be any further from the truth. Today, heroin is available in Wal-Mart parking lots, in neighbor's kitchen cupboards, and is being used by teachers, business executives, and is rampant in colleges. It is cheap to buy, easy to find and is more potent than ever before.

I want you to know my son's story. My son loved his family, hated injustice and had a heart bigger than he could express. He was a graduate of Georgia State and worked at a law firm in Atlanta. Any girl would have considered him a great catch. He was fun to be around and extremely intelligent. He loved his family, and he loved my dog.

After college he became addicted to Oxycontin, and then because it was cheaper and easier to find, he started using heroin. Not liking the direction his life was heading he white-knuckled it and became "clean" for two and a half years. I do not know why, but he relapsed in October 2013. And he relapsed big time. He was openly miserable. But heroin was in control. Cunning, baffling and all powerful, the drug took control. Addiction cannot be minimized; the physical and emotion toll it takes is incredible. It needs to stop, before another mother loses a son.

In November, he was involved in a horrific accident, and in support of his recovery, I dug deep into my retirement account to provide him with inpatient rehabilitation for 90 days. He was bright and cheerful again and looking forward to God's plan in his life. He truly hated who he had become and wanted to help others who might learn from his journey. Together we made the decision for him to move home with me to Columbus, a new setting, where he would not be constantly reminded of his past life and be able to move forward. He attended meetings every day and therapy twice a week.

Two weeks and one day after my son came home, sober and hopeful, he was found dead in the bathroom with a needle on the floor. Right here in Columbus, in my home, surrounded by love, but cursed by an addiction stronger and more powerful than he ever imagined he died. And on that day, a big part of me died, too.

Heroin addiction does not need to exist. We need to tell these stories so others might not suffer. We need to publish the number of deaths due to heroin, like we do shootings and stabbings, the homicide statistics would pale in comparison to the number of lives destroyed by heroin.

We need to talk about the fact that heroin crosses ALL socioeconomic, cultural, ethnic and education levels. We need to discuss the truth about heroin addiction most commonly starting out from prescription pain medication use, and from recreational use. If we do not get serious about encouraging alternatives to narcotics for pain management, this problem will never abate.

I lost my son. I feel empty. And I am mad as hell at our society for ignoring the problem of drug abuse in this country. It is time to do something. Please join me in this fight. No one else needs to lose a child to drugs. They say that there are only six degrees of separation between each of us. How many of us have not been affected by this cunning disease, who cannot recall someone who lost a child to drugs? Isn't it worth publicizing and campaigning to do anything we can to stop this pandemic?

There's a gaping, aching hole in my heart, for my son and for our society,

Angie King, R.N., is administrative director for Patient Safety and Quality at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus.

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