Ryan Montgomery Lewis
On July 10, 2014, my son Ryan died of a heroin overdose. He was only 23 years-old. Ryan struggled with the disease of addiction for about two years and its progression was rapid. Ryan started with marijuana use, followed by opiate use, and lastly to heroin.
Ryan was the oldest of our four children. He was outgoing, intelligent, artistic, creative, energetic, and had a goofy sense of humor - he was so much fun to be around. Ryan excelled in music, art and photography. He was most content when playing guitar, painting, drawing or taking pictures.
Ryan’s substance use started at the end of his junior year. We suspected he was smoking marijuana - and we were right. At that time, Ryan entered a 30-day outpatient treatment program. He would attend school and go to treatment during the day. After he was discharged from treatment, Ryan returned to school to finish out his junior year. He graduated in 2009 and the next few years were uneventful.
It was during a visit to the emergency room that we were informed Ryan had benzodiazepines and opioids in his system. I also noticed that he was often ill with “flu-like” symptoms in the morning but never put all the pieces together; these were symptoms of withdrawal. I would ask him how he could be so ill in the morning and feel better in the afternoon? No one gets better that quickly!
One day, Ryan brought his clothes over to wash. I started his laundry for him and when I went to grab his clothes out of the wash to put them in the dryer, I felt something in one of his socks. I pulled out a needle. How could this be? The kid who cried every year when getting his flu shot until he was 17! How could he be using intravenous drugs? We moved Ryan back home and made a visit to the ER. The counselor recommended inpatient treatment, but there were no beds available in the Twin Cities. No beds!
We brought him home and helped him through his withdrawal symptoms. We literally watched Ryan the entire weekend, 24 hours a day. Throughout the next year Ryan was in and out of treatment centers four times. When Ryan was in recovery, he and his girlfriend got back together, he was hanging out with his friends again, having fun with his siblings, making music, drawing, painting and laughing. Our Ryan was back.
Ryan so very much wanted to get better. I asked him what was so hard and what I could do to help. Ryan said, “Mom the physical and psychological cravings are just unbearable at times.” During this time, all our energy was focused on Ryan, keeping him safe and in recovery. This disease affects the entire family and it’s so very isolating.
In May, I suspected Ryan was using again and we confronted him about it. He’d been slipping on his meetings and did not want to continue attending outpatient treatment. As parents we were at our wits end; exhausted and in need of help for our son. Again, Ryan went back to inpatient treatment. This time we told him what we were doing at home was not working and on the advice of his counselors he needed to move into a sober house when he was discharged. Ryan was extremely angry and would not talk to us for a week. When he and my husband did speak, Ryan asked: “Dad am I ever going to get better?” My husband responded, “Yep we’re going to get through this together buddy. We can do it.”
On July 7th, my husband picked Ryan up from treatment and helped move him into the sober house and he was still very angry with us. On Wednesday I picked Ryan up after work, brought him some clothes, and we went grocery shopping. We talked about how things were going and made plans for the next day. I gave Ryan a hug and a kiss, told him I loved him and how good he looked. On Thursday afternoon I received the call from a St. Paul Police Officer. He told me that my son Ryan died of a heroin overdose that morning. I just kept screaming “No” over and over. This is not how this was supposed to be. He was supposed to be at a sober house, in recovery, and safe. We were supposed to work through this.
As parents we feel that we have failed. We could not protect Ryan. The face of addiction has changed. It can be any one of us. No longer can we say “This will never happen to me,” - it can and it does. No one chooses to become addicted. The person chooses to use that first time. The drug then chooses them.
My goal is to continue to raise awareness on all fronts; provider education and suboxone training, health care coverage for long-term treatment, naloxone in sober houses and kits to dispense in ERs for overdose patients. I have also partnered with Adult & Teen Challenge, Washington and Ramsey counties sharing Ryan’s story at public forums to bring awareness to communities in hopes that we can bring about change and break the stigma, so individuals and families can reach out and get the help they so desperately need!
This brief period of my son’s life was not what defined him. Ryan will always be remembered as the funny, talented, creative soul that he was, and he would have done great things.