The Anniston Star

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September 2, 2014

Op-ed: Street killer on the loose

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Posted: Sunday, July 6, 2014 3:45 am

Saturday would have been my son’s 32nd birthday. Instead of celebrating with him and his younger brother, I planned to visit his grave.

We all have heard of and seen countless tragedies in which someone dies a needless death, and I am sure to some people these words won’t mean much, either. 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 violent acts, shootings, stabbings and even rape, but too little is spoken of another killer, the murderous substance heroin.

As a woman of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, my generation thought of heroin addicts as skid-row street bums, toothless, homeless vagabonds, 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 Walmart parking lots, in neighbors’ kitchen cupboards, is being used by teachers and business executives, and is rampant at colleges. It is cheap to buy, easy to find and more potent than ever before.

I want you to know my son’s story. My son, Andrew, loved his family, hated injustice and had a heart bigger than he could express. He was a graduate of Georgia State University 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 he started using heroin because it was cheaper and easier to find. 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 last October, and he relapsed big time. He was openly miserable. Cunning, baffling and all powerful, the drug took control. Addiction cannot be minimized; the physical and emotional toll it takes is incredible. It needs to stop before another mother loses a son.

In November, he was involved in a horrific accident. 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, Ga., 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 had come 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 that most commonly starts out from prescription pain medication use and, yes, from recreational use, too. 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 it?

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