We lost our son, Jacob, to a heroin overdose on November 20, 2016. He was 18 years old. Jacob was the kid who made everyone laugh. He was so smart, and had such a quick wit, that he could come out with a response for anything. He was an avid and skilled skateboarder. He was a drummer, and he loved writing and listening to music. In fact, before his death, he was about to start an internship to learn how to mix beats, in a real music studio.
Somewhere around the age of 12, Jacob began taking prescribed Adderall for his ADHD to help him focus on school. He also had oral surgery and had to take prescription opioids for a time. I believe that these events may have triggered something in his brain. He began trying different pills that he would get from friends at school. Then, his friend group changed from the kids he had grown up with to some older kids. Soon after, he started smoking pot daily, and then multiple times a day. Within no time, Jacob was doing all types of drugs. It was like a switch had been flipped in Jacob. Our funny, smart son began to disappear before our eyes.
We did not know what to do. We had no idea where to go for help. Why would we? Things like this don’t happen to people like us, right? I was an elementary school teacher and my husband, a photographer. We have three successful daughters. Jacob was our youngest. People knew us. People knew Jacob.
As his addiction began to take over his life, we kept it to ourselves. We were crippled by stigma and lack of information. Jacob went from experimenting, to using drugs every day. By the time he was 14, we hardly knew who he was anymore. Some drugs made him sleepy, some made him violent. He was still living at our house, when he was home at all, but he would disappear for weeks at a time. He had run ins with the law and spent some time in juvenile detention, a horrible place for young people. Our system is set up for punishment, not support or treatments. His dad and I felt lost.
We finally got a judge to understand our situation. Jacob was sent to a rehab facility, where he did well for several months. Then, on a home visit, he relapsed. Afraid of going back to jail, he disappeared for 2 weeks. The rehab would not take him back.
We had so many awful battles with our son. There were times, yes, when he was his old self; the kid with the smile and the absolute best hugs on the planet, but life was so hard with ups and severe downs. You are afraid to let people know because what would they think?
The thing about stigma is that people say, ‘Well, it’s his own fault. He chose to do drugs.” They don’t understand that no one would CHOOSE to become addicted to drugs. No kid thinks, “Oh! When I grow up, I want to be an addict!” What people don’t realize is that at some point, if you have a brain pre-wired for addiction, the drugs start to make the choices for you. You might choose to try something; but then the addiction takes over. I think that it is so sad that maybe 9 out of 10 kids could try drugs, and 9 of them just walk away from it. My son could not. Drugs took my son away.
I will never forget the November day when I found him in his room, on his own bed; overdosed. Gone. His dad and I knew that Jacob had tried many drugs, but we had no idea at all, that he had turned to heroin. The day he died was the worst day of my life. Today, my husband and I try to bring awareness to the problems that revolve around people with opioid misuse disorders. We do whatever we can to help erase stigma by opening conversations and speaking out to groups about our experiences. Our hope is to give Jacob a voice. We will always walk around with this giant hole inside of us, from the loss of our son, and the love he brought into our lives. We all miss him and his smile very much.
Story by Tina Smarch