Andy was born in 1982 in Phoenix, Arizona. He had a joyful life. He made friends easily and he was always on a mission to make people laugh; as the class clown and life of the party, he often succeeded.
When Andy grew older, a few of his good friends developed substance abuse issues and he took it upon himself to help them work through it. After seeing the destruction of hard drugs first-hand, he made a personal commitment to not use.
Andy was a big dreamer and made concrete plans for his future. He started a retirement savings account at the age of 16 when he started working his very first job.
But as Andy became a young adult, he thought he had to participate in drinking and drugs in order to fit in. He was good at hiding the extent to which he must have indulged in these activities. His suicide note was surprising and painful:
“My soul is already dead. Marijuana killed my soul + ruined my brain.”
Andy committed suicide on March 1, 2014 in Peoria, Arizona.
Andy spent his last five years in a downward spiral of what we now recognize as marijuana abuse. There were the calls to suicide help lines, hospitalizations in five different mental health hospitals on three different occasions, and two sentences of court-ordered mental health treatment for psychotic behavior. During the last week of his life he told his mother, father and social worker that he had to quit using marijuana to live but he was unable to do so; he was addicted. Pot was doing nothing good for him except to help him sleep. Without it he had nightmares.
But by then his waking life was a nightmare that he suffered for years. Andy worked for very short durations with various mental health professionals and received a variety of diagnoses, including Major Depression, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, Mild Alcohol Use Disorder and Severe Cannabis Use Disorder.
One of his doctors noted in his records, “Andy is a kind and gentle man. He is an honorable man. Andy is smart with goals and the skills to make them happen. Andy has a great smile and people are comfortable around him.”
For a time he functioned well; mostly employed, earning an Associate Degree and completing three years of active duty in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division, including a tour of duty in Iraq. But as the marijuana addiction took control over his life, he lost insight into his own mental health. He began to isolate and avoided friends and family. He quit his jobs and disappointed himself over and over again.
Marijuana ruined a very fine young man. It kept him from seeking appropriate mental healthcare. Marijuana left family and friends reeling from this tragic loss. As our country experiments with legalizing marijuana for so-called recreational use, I hope Andy’s voice can be heard:
“Marijuana killed my soul + ruined my brain.”
Andy is one of the 129 a day who has died from a substance use disorder. Andy is one of the 22 Veterans that committed suicide each day. I have wondered what portion of the 22 Veterans, and suicides in general, have a root cause of substance use disorders. I fear that the answer is “a lot.”