Boca Raton, Florida
We lost our son Sam in October of 2015 from an overdose after an 8-year battle with addiction. Sam is pictured here with his sister Amy, just 12 weeks earlier at our oldest son, Mathew’s wedding. Sam was a kind and loving young man whose greatest gift was his huge heart and compassion for others. He was a natural athlete and loved to ski, golf, swim and fish; but his first love was always football. Sam’s athleticism started at seven years old and played throughout his school career. Sam was also a natural at sales. After graduation, he started as a door-to-door canvasser for a local waterproofing company. From there, he went on to a successful sales career.
Sam’s story of addiction started in 2007 when he was prescribed OxyContin after surgery. Although he followed the prescribed dosage, he ultimately became addicted. In hindsight, we know now that Sam was over-prescribed and given many more pills than his pain warranted. Once the prescription ran out, he bought on the street. When Sam needed more pills than he could afford just to keep from getting “dope sick" from withdrawal, he turned to heroin. Heroin was cheap and easy to get and offered a whole new level of high. Up until this point, Sam had been living on his own and appeared to be doing well. Looking back, the first red flag was Sam asking to move back home for the summer so he could save more money. We were torn, but ultimately allowed him to move in under the condition that he pay $100 per month in rent, which we would give back once he moved out. The second red flag was Sam never having any money, despite working full-time and not having many expenses. We didn’t connect these dots until Sam’s sister, Amy, found him passed out on the couch in the basement surrounded by injection drug paraphernalia. Nothing could come as a bigger shock than learning your child is shooting heroin. We confronted Sam, and he admitted that he was using and had not been able to stop on his own; he also said he was ready to get help. This was huge. Admitting there’s a problem is half the battle, and agreeing to seek treatment was the other half. We thought that Sam would go to into inpatient treatment and, when he finished, he’d be “fixed” - problem solved! What we didn’t realize at the time is that opioid addiction doesn’t work that way. It’s a brain disease that never goes away. Sam’s battle to stay clean would challenge him for the rest of his life. When he relapsed within six months after successfully completing a local 90-day inpatient treatment program, we were disheartened and frustrated. Now what? We decided to send Sam to a facility in South Florida where he would be forced to break from old habits and the people, places and things that had served as triggers to relapse. After successfully completing treatment, Sam opted to remain in Florida to make a fresh start.
On Saturday, October 24th, 2015, I got the call from my oldest son, Mathew. He said, “Sam’s dead.” I thought it had to be a mistake. Sam was doing great! He was the top salesman at Parts Base, an internet aviation parts marketplace in Boca Raton, Florida. Sam and his girlfriend, Donasha, planned to get married and they were expecting a baby. On that particular weekend, Donasha was away on a church retreat. It took some time, but we eventually learned Sam had overdosed on Friday, October 23rd. There was no one around to save him. We’ll never know if the guy who supplied Sam the drugs that day was with him when he overdosed and left him to die or not. What we do know is he took off work on Friday afternoon and sent a text at 12:30 to someone who the police later said was probably his dealer. Sam couldn’t have realized the heroin he bought that day was laced with fentanyl, a deadly “additive” that’s so potent it could kill him within minutes. The neighbor found Sam in his gaming chair the next morning, shortly before a frantic Donasha arrived home in time to watch the paramedics carry him away. We thought that fresh start in Florida would keep him safe, but we learned too late that there would always be drug dealers standing by, ready to prey on people coming out of treatment - no matter how far from home they went.
My reaction to losing Sam was one of total disbelief. When we got the news, we hopped the first flight to Florida. We took care of his affairs and made arrangements for Sam to be returned to Ohio to be laid to rest back at home. Over that weekend, I began to reflect on all the conversations Sam and I had about doing something to help others avoid the path he had taken. The night before we left Florida to fly home, Sam’s church held a memorial service for him. The church was packed and I listened as his friends, co-workers, bosses and others in the community, one after another, got up and spoke about Sam and what he meant to them. I had no prepared remarks that evening, but I felt I had to thank the community for the love and support they had shown my son. I got up, and after thanking everyone, I shared how Sam wanted to help others struggling with the disease that ultimately took his life and that we planned to take up that cause in his name. And with that, the seeds were sown for the road ahead.
When we returned from Florida, we immediately began work setting up Cover2 Resources. While I did go to grief counseling for a number of months following Sam’s death, I think the best therapy for me was my work on Cover2. Our first initiative has been the Cover2 PPT podcast series, a series profiling the People, Places and Things making a difference in the opioid epidemic. We have now produced 158 Cover2 PPT Podcast episodes, and in the process we’ve learned about numerous programs that are working well to address the opioid epidemic. Over the last year, the Quick Response Teams, Drug Free Clubs of America and AnchorEd programs highlighted in our series have been embraced and implemented in Northeast Ohio. We look forward to continuing our work in Sam’s memory in hopes of inspiring the adoption of many more programs to save lives - and that is the most profound way I know to honor Sam’s memory.
Greg hosts the Cover2 Resource Podcast, which provides information, expert opinions, and resources to parents of children suffering from Opioid Abuse Disorder. Listen to Greg’s podcasts here.