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The Disease of Addiction

Every day I am hearing horrific stories of families being overwhelmed with drug addiction and fearing the loss of a child. These stories are not coming from our economically challenged communities, but rather from our ...

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Every day I am hearing horrific stories of families being overwhelmed with drug addiction and fearing the loss of a child. These stories are not coming from our economically challenged communities, but rather from our working middle class and communities of privilege.

Each story speaks of the profound pain and suffering that families have endured to save their children from the disease of addiction. So many parents have expressed their sense of powerlessness over getting their son or daughter the appropriate help and making any kind of positive difference in the disease of addiction.

Parent after parent has indicated a lack of resources in their time of need. Too many parents have expressed no phone calls back during a crisis. They state that when a bed was needed for treatment, there were no beds available "with or without insurance. To further the pain, the resources they reached out to offered no direction, or hope filled encouragement.

After the Hope Summit, a mother who left the forum in frustration called me and asked if we could meet. The following is her story.

Mrs. J. is happily married, and gave birth to two wonderful children. They live out East on the South Shore. Mr. J. is a professional and Mrs. J. is a nurse. Nine years ago, they lost their younger son to a heroin overdose. His senseless death has burdened the hearts of his entire family.

When S.J. was in the eighth grade in middle school, he was an honor student. He received the Presidential Academic Fitness Award in sixth grade. He was an avid soccer player, and even played on a traveling team for a local sports club. He began playing the viola in the third grade, and also sang in the chorus. The parents shaped their work schedule around as S.J. s school schedule. More often than not, one parent was home every day after school. As parents, they never missed a school concert, a soccer game or a parent-teacher conference. They went on family vacations together during the summer, sometimes with grandparents and other close family members.

S.J. was a part of a large, loving extended family, which got together frequently for picnics, holidays, baptisms, communions, confirmations, graduations, birthdays and weddings. As a young man, S.J. was baptized, received his first communion and celebrated the sacrament of confirmation. They attended church regularly as a family. They were not the perfect family, but they were a family that worked hard at loving one another and being there for each other. The children knew that they were loved and valued by their parents. Mrs. J. along with her husband, worked hard to build self-esteem within their children and provide a stable home.

The disease and infection of drug addiction invaded S.J. s life when he entered middle school in the seventh grade. He remained in the orchestra, joined the soccer team and began the school year with exceptional grades. A few months into the school year, S.J. was physically attacked in the school cafeteria by another student who was a member of the soccer team.

Originally, both boys were dropped from the team, even though S.J. was the one who was attacked. His parents later discovered that the other boy remained on the team because he was too valuable a player to be dropped!

Unfortunately, S.J. s expulsion from the team left him disillusioned with school and at odds with his friends. Unfortunately, he began to make new friends. Drug addicts and drug dealers are a very accepting group of people. S.J. s drug use began with marijuana, but quickly escalated to heroin by the time he was 14 and in the eighth grade. Mrs. J. only learned of this after her son s death. As a matter of fact, she never knew her son was addicted to heroin until the morning she found him in his bedroom after he had overdosed. He was 27 years old. The friend he was with when he overdosed ran away. All she had to do was knock on Mrs. J. s bedroom door to let her know there was a problem.

They could ve called an ambulance. Mrs. J. is a nurse. She indicated that had she given him an injection of Narcan, it probably would have saved his life. The irony of this tragedy is that the girl he was with was a nurse - a nurse who was using heroin! However, his parents always felt safe when their son was with this young woman. They thought she had it all together, and that in no way could she possibly be a part of the drug scene. The only thing she ever seemed concerned with was getting into trouble. That would lead her to lose her nursing license. The day that S.J. died, she too was high on heroin.

These days, this mother fills her thoughts with many what ifs. What if she had been successful in getting her son into treatment? But she had tried so many times and failed. At the time of her son s death, she didn t know very much about heroin, but she did know that her son had a serious drug problem.

Twice before her son died, he overdosed on various drugs. Each time she brought him to the emergency room on the South Shore, she was hoping against hope that someone would be the catalyst for getting her son the treatment he desperately needed.

According to Mrs. J., each time she sought medical care of for her son, she was told that the staff had to care for the really sick people. Each time, he was discharged from the emergency room with no real discharge plan, despite pleas from his parents and the local police, who brought him to the emergency room the time before his last overdose - the overdose that ultimately took his life.

This is only part of S.J. s story. He did quit all drugs for a brief time in his early 20 s. However, he never learned the skills for maintaining healthy recovery. He suffered from depression that was never formally diagnosed and treated. Perhaps, if it was treated in his adolescence, his life might have unfolded differently. At the age of 27, his old drug friends resurfaced, he relapsed and died.

His mom shared his story with me to honor his life and death with the hope that his story might protect a family from walking down their road.