I am well-acquainted with the pain of substance abuse. My 18-year-old son, Kent, died of an accidental prescription drug overdose in 2003. One night during his sophomore year of high school, Kent called to say that he was out with some friends and wasn’t coming home that night. He was calling because he didn’t want me to worry, but when we hung up I knew something was wrong. I was waiting for him when he came home at 6:00 AM.
Life changed for us that morning. Kent went to the doctor and tested positive for substances. We restricted his computer time and monitored his activities. We made a lot of changes that next year and Kent adjusted fairly well. He transferred schools and graduated with ease. He got a job he loved and spent time with his friends and family. I thought we had dodged the bullet--he didn’t want to be a drug addict so we were out of the woods. It seemed that all was well, but I didn’t know any better.
Before Kent turned 18, he was scheduled to have his wisdom teeth removed. I filled the prescription before his surgery and as I was looking at the bottles, I noticed that one of them had fewer pills in it than the other. When I confronted Kent about it he admitted to having taken some.
I asked Kent why and his answer was chilling. He asked me to think about a time in my life when I had felt “Great”—“The Best.” When I nodded Kent said, “The first time you get high, it’s better than that. It feels so good that you want to feel that way again—only it’s physically, chemically impossible.” He explained how the drugs alter your brain chemistry and why people take more and increase their frequency of use in an attempt to get back to the feeling of that first high. If I’d known then what I know now, I would have taken him to treatment immediately.
On a Monday in September, 2003, there was a knock on my door and soon I heard the words: “Your son has died.”
Kent and two other kids crushed some Oxycontin and washed them down with beer. Kent got sleepy and the other two left. As Kent slept, the drug slowed his respiratory system down until it stopped completely. His roommate found him the next day—already gone.
I don’t want the pain I have suffered to go to waste. Since 2006, I have been working with parents and families to help their children overcome the disease of addiction. By focusing on resources and prevention, I help families maintain hope and never give up.