This is the story of my son, Kevin Doan. He was born on October 21, 1985, and was the second of four children. My husband and I were thrilled to have a son. Kevin was an extremely easy baby and child. He was always smiling and tagging along by his dad's side. He loved camping, fishing, swimming and being in the outdoors. He was a lover of all animals.
Kevin grew up in an upper middle class family. We lived on wooded property and as a child he spent most days "building camps," fishing, and hiking around with his sister, brothers and friends from the neighborhood. When he was six he expressed an interest in ice hockey and we enrolled him in a “Learn to Skate” program. Kevin excelled on the ice and quickly moved up through the teams. He spent his teenage years traveling to play AAA hockey. He was a large, formidable figure on the team. His dad was always the head or assistant coach, so they spent many hours together on and off the ice.
Kevin graduated from high school and got a degree in Construction Technology. He gravitated towards construction because he loved being outside and working with his hands. He spent weekends doing what he loved- camping, fishing and playing hockey.
I believe his drug problem began in 2014 at the age of 28 after he injured his back on a job site. The doctor prescribed him pain meds and Kevin quickly developed a substance use disorder--wanting and needing these pills even after the doctor would no longer prescribe them.
Kevin was always able to hold a full-time job, and therefore had enough money to buy the pills illegally. He began to come around less often for family gatherings, and kept missing birthdays and holidays. When I questioned him, he said he was "sick." Eventually, he told me he was crushing and snorting pain pills. We knew something was wrong but we had no idea the extent of his illness. He lived on his own so we didn’t see the signs for a very long time.
Kevin came to us in October 2015, and told us he wanted to get help. He had researched rehabs in the area and a friend recommended one that he thought would be a good fit. It was a Christian-based rehab in Northern Ohio, which is four hours north of us. Kevin packed his belongings and we drove him there on October 15, 2015. We hugged, kissed and told him how proud we were of him!
During Kevin’s time in treatment he wrote us letters about how happy and whole he felt. He honestly thought he could come home and stay clean. I too was hopeful. Kevin was allowed to come home for a visit over Christmas. I thank God we had that time with him. He was clear-eyed, 25lbs heavier and enjoyed spending time with us, his siblings and especially his nieces and nephews. He kept saying how thankful he was for his family.
Kevin returned to the program after the holiday and was officially released on January 23, 2016. They advised him not to return to Cincinnati, where they said he would be triggered by his apartment and his friends. He ignored this advice, however, thinking that he could handle himself. He planned to return to his job and apartment. This program did not believe in using maintenance medication to help patients stay clean, which I believe contributed to Kevin's lack of success.
I was terrified for him to come back. My fears were realized on January 26, 2016, only 3 days after Kevin came home, when I discovered him dead--in our home in his old bedroom. I did CPR until the paramedics arrived but it was useless. Kevin was 30 years old.
The detectives found a needle near his body with a small amount of heroin left in it. It was later determined that the heroin was laced with a synthetic fentanyl. The detectives said that because Kevin had just gotten out of rehab and his system was clean, the drugs immediately shut down his heart. Those detectives pursued a case against three people whose names and numbers were in Kevin's phone.
We had no idea that Kevin was using heroin. He had never been arrested and had no police record--not even a ticket. We now know that heroin is a cheap replacement for pain pills.
Our family has been devastated by the loss of Kevin. The shame and stigma stops here, with me. I cannot and will not let my son's death be in vain! Substance Use Disorder is a disease, much like cancer. It is pervasive and will not let go. We must step up the treatment options and demand that insurance companies include addiction as a covered illness. Conversations must start now.
I never thought that Substance Use Disorder would have such a devastating effect on our lives. I carry on because Kevin would want us to be happy and live to the fullest, just as he did.
This is our new normal--without Kevin. Our family has been irrevocably broken.