Our 31-year-old-son, Bobby, died of a heroin overdose on April 18, 2015 after a 13-year struggle with addiction. His addiction to heroin did not start with prescription medication use as it does for so many, but emerged after years of experimenting with various drugs.
Even as a young boy, Bobby was curious about so many things. We first realized he was using drugs at the end of his senior year in high school when we found a marijuana pipe. He denied that it was his. A few months after that incident he left to attend James Madison University, his top choice school. During college he got into Crystal Meth. He called one day in tears saying he had been up for days and that he needed help. We were in shock and eager to get him home. He attended a 30-day treatment center in Winchester and we were hopeful that this would mark the end of his drug use.
Although he attempted to return to his studies at JMU, he never completed his degree there. Instead, he attended a community college where he completed an associates degree and graduated with honors.
While back at home he worked in restaurants and other random jobs to pay the bills. It was during this time that he got involved in heroin. But because I was a working mother and our schedules conflicted and I didn’t see much of him. Over the next several years, Bobby was arrested several times for heroin possession, and overdosed several times. On several occasions he agreed to wear a wire while going out on buys in order to reduce his charges. Those were terrifying and sleepless nights for me. Our family was in private agony—we couldn’t believe that we had a child who would go so far as to put a needle in his arm.
During an annual weekend trip to Green Bay, WI for an NFL game, we received a call at our hotel saying that he had overdosed and was in bad shape. The entire weekend was prepaid but we left immediately and flew back home to find our son in the ICU at Fauquier Hospital barely hanging on. It took him several days to stabilize. After that we took out a loan and admitted him to another program in Maryland. Again, we were confident that once he completed the program he would be on the fast track to recovery. When he got out he was attending NA meetings and working the program. He landed a very good sales job with a packaging firm in Maryland and moved into a condo a few years later. He also had a very special woman in his life with whom he’d been friends with for several years. They began to discuss marriage. His sales numbers at work increased as the months went by. I often asked him if he was attending meetings and he assured me that he would. Finally, everything seemed to be going right.
He died alone in his condo after a night out celebrating a friend’s birthday. His friends asked him to stay over but he wanted to go home. What made him go back to the needle? We ask ourselves this over and over. Looking back over the years, we see how Bobby had an addictive personality. Even as a young boy, if he was interested in something he wouldn’t stop until he mastered it.
Those 13 years when he was battling addiction were a living hell for our family. We didn’t think that anyone else could possibly understand and we feared being judged by both friends and family. Even when I finally admitted to everyone what we were going through with Bobby, it was still an incredibly lonely position to be in.
I remember the desperate internet search for a good treatment facility. Why couldn’t someone just tell us where to go and what to do? We often wished we had someone to talk to who understood what we were going through, but none of our friends got it. We spent a lot of our own money trying to get Bobby the right treatment because his insurance didn’t cover treatment for drug or alcohol addiction. The physician who enrolled him into the Suboxone Medication Assisted Program never offered any counseling or behavioral health services, nor did Bobby have anyone to hold him accountable while he was taking the medication. The doctor simply wrote a prescription every 30 days. I would like to walk into that doctor’s office and let him know that he only did part of his job, and that now my son is dead.
I have been a practicing RN for 37 years and I felt like this shouldn’t have happened to us. As a licensed professional, I should have been able to pick up on the signs and put two-and-two together. But the reality is that I was a working mother and also very involved with our other children’s lives over the years. Tragedies like this happen to all sorts of families. The sad thing is that we tried so hard and still we could not save him.
Bobby told us how much he hated heroin and what power it had over him. He said it invaded his dreams—that he thought about it every single day. The only comfort I can find while dealing with this grief is the knowledge that he is free from his struggles with heroin and finally at peace.