An American tragedy -my personal experience with the Opioid crisis

Look at that happy, smiling, bright eyed little boy. Today I attended his funeral, after he died from a drug overdose 3 days short of his 33rd birthday.

How does one go from an all American boy with everything in the world going for him to a broken young man who’s life is ravaged by drug addiction?

A week ago, almost to the hour, my phone rang.I saw that my best friend, Sharon was calling. I answered the phone, and I heard the words, “Patty, I’m calling because Matt died of an overdose.” Matt was her son—her only child. Instantaneously, I burst out crying in shock and pain. It really shouldn’t have come as a surprise at all, after watching the nightmare of his drug addiction unfold for eight years. But when the moment finally came, it was a shock.

I rushed to her house, 15 minutes away, still crying. I was greeted at the door by her next door neighbor, who informed me that his body was still in the house, in his bedroom. His mother had found him, dead. Almost every night for eight years, she would stop by his bedroom door in the middle of the night to listen to make sure he was still alive. When she did so at 2 am, he was sleeping. She could hear his rhythmic breathing. When she woke up Saturday morning, she went about her business as usual, waiting for him to get up. 9 am came, then 10 am. Finally, around 11 am, still no sign of Matt. She opened his door and he was laying on his bed, lifeless. She knew he was dead right away, but she felt his skin. He was cold.

It’s all sort of a blur, but there was a police officer there, in the living room, telling the small group of close friends that had gathered already that they were not going to do an autopsy and that they found two needles next to him. That they were running toxicology tests but they had no doubt that it was a drug overdose. The police officer looked very mournful. She had seen this too many times. When they came to remove his body, we all went outside and walked around the block so we didn’t have to watch. But I turned around and saw a body covered in a maroon cloth being carried out on a stretcher.

I have had a long, complex journey with Matt and his mother, my friend, Sharon. We became friends when Matt was just about 7 or 8 years old. My son was the same age. We used to sit and talk at the community pool while our kids played in the water. Sharon was a karate instructor, and part of our history is that she was my teacher all the way until I got my black belt some 20 years ago.

Matt was a typical blonde haired, blue eyed all-American boy.He grew up in a typical middle class suburban family with good values. His family loved him. No family is perfect, but his home life was happy and typical. He played several different sports growing up.

But this story begins later, when Matt was in his mid 20’s. To an outsider, he seemed to have it all. Everything had seemed on track for him–he played high school football and had graduated. He had been away at college for a couple of years and had come home after he apparently decided he didn’t want to continue college. He was very, very handsome and the girls flocked to him like a magnet. He had the biggest, bluest eyes. He had a big infectious smile with perfect teeth. He literally could have been a male model. He seemed to have a great life ahead of him.He was friendly, polite, respectful. He always greeted me with a big smile and a hug.

Sharon and I had drifted apart for a few years, and we weren’t in contact that much when it first started. I don’t remember what actually led to us starting to be in contact again, but when we did, She began telling me of troubles with Matt and drugs.

He started out by abusing prescription opiate drugs. A few years into his journey with drugs, his mother showed me the prescription labels she had saved that showed that a doctor had been prescribing massive amounts of drugs like morphine, and Dilaudid to him. I don’t know how that got started –don’t know if he originally had an injury. But the way he became addicted to opiates is clear–an unscrupulous doctor who would end up going to prison for illegally prescribing controlled substances for cash. By the time that doctor  went to prison, Matt was already a full blown addict at the age of 25.

When he could no longer obtain opiates legally from a doctor, he turned to heroin, like so many do.

By the time he died last Saturday, drugs had ravaged every ounce of his being, and his drug addiction had ripped through his family for 8 years like a vicious storm and there wasn’t much left but trauma and pain.I don’t really want to go into the whole dark story. I don’t know if I will. I feel like I have to, but probably not today. It’s not a happy story at all. Actually, it’s a horror story. Today was the funeral. I watched my best friend speak at her only child’s funeral. She looked really tired and sad. It has been a long, hard 8 years. Longer and harder than anyone that has never been affected by drug abuse could even begin to imagine.