On November 12, 2005 my son, Zachary died of a heroin overdose.

Before he died he told me that if he could tell kids and prevent one person from ever using he would.

Here is Zachary's story:


I was a young single mom raising my very high spirited boy, Zachary. He always had a sense of adventure. He loved to ski and skateboard. He was a talented artist and musician. Zach had friends wherever he went and lived life to the fullest.

Zach was 12 when he first started experimenting with marijuana. He and his friends started stealing and he spent time at the detention center. I noticed a change in his mood. He was more quiet and secretive. I didn't know it at the time, but later found out Zach had gotten white out and computer duster and huffed it. One time he downed a bottle of cough syrup to black out.

I now talk to kids at schools about the dangers of drugs. I talk to parents at libraries. When Zach was young I really knew very little about drugs and what kids were doing to get high. I now speak from my experience.

Zachary's teen years were very trying. Zachary now had a new step father and a little brother. I found out that Zachary was now trying different drugs and using pills. He had consequences at home and at school. Then the bottom for us was when he and a friend stole a car and ran away. He called from Arkansas and we brought him back. The juvenile judge allowed us to put him in a strict camp for “troubled teens” in Montana. Zach spent a year and half there. The camp has since closed because of allegations of abuse and even a death. Zach came back and ready for a fresh start. Then he started hanging around with the wrong crowd again and using drugs again. He stole from my parents and we decided we needed to press charges. Pressing charges against your child, knowing he is going to prison with a felony is one of the hardest things to do. Sometimes it is necessary. Zach finally did graduate when he was locked up and I was proud of his accomplishment.

Zach applied to the Pittsburgh College of Art and Design and was accepted! He did so well in the first semester, had a job and a girlfriend. Until the awful car accident that ended him in ICU in Pittsburgh. He was on oxycontin after breaking his c2 and c3 vertebrae and a cracked femur. He rehabilitated at home and the doctor tried weaning him off the powerful medicine that many say is similar to heroin. It was then that he moved back to Pittsburgh. 6 months later a friend called me to say he was afraid Zach was going to die because of his heroin addiction! What a slap in the face for me. Heroin was something I was completely unfamiliar with. People die from heroin! I needed to run over there and “save him!”

Zach was going through withdrawal when I got there. He was extremely sick. We went from hospital to hospital. We were either “in the wrong county”, “he had too much insurance”, “not enough insurance”, “they didn't have a bed”...I was frantic! I thought he was going to die! I have learned so much over the years when it comes to addiction. First of all, what I think is Zach's “bottom” may not be the same as what his “bottom” actually is. For the next 3 years Zach went to 5 rehabs across the country from Ohio, to California to Michigan to Florida. We paid each one tens of thousands of dollars because of their “promise that Zach would come home clean.” But what actually happened was that he detoxed, started feeling better, didn't like their program, felt he could “do this on his own” and left after a few days or a week.

I don't want to say that rehabs don't work, they do! But the addict has to be willing to work- long term. Staying clean is a life long commitment and I don't think Zachary could grasp that. I also believe that rehabilitation needs to be longer than 90 days. For many rehabs that's all they offer. The receptors and pathways in the brain have been badly damaged and it takes at least a year for real change to happen for an addict.

Addicts also need tough love and family support. Since Zachary has passed away I started a support group for families. It is a local Naranon chapter. Many times I have people that contact me and want to know what to do for their addict family member or friend. I always say that family support through Naranon is crucial before, during and after their loved one is in treatment.




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