Misty Fetko is an involved mother who looked out for the obvious signs of drug abuse and took the opportunities to speak to her children about it whenever she thought something was wrong . However, her son’s curiosity for prescription drugs and cough syrup abuse slipped by her, leaving her devastated in the wake of his death.
My name is Misty Fetko and I am a registered nurse who works in a very busy Emergency Room in Central Ohio, but, more importantly, I am a mother of two wonderful boys and I want to tell the story of my oldest son, Carl.
Carl was my beautiful little boy; eyes like large, dark chocolates, an infectious smile, and an insatiable curiosity. I spent years protecting him from harm, but two and a half years ago, harm found a way to sneak in and steal the life of this gifted young man.
It was the morning of July 16, 2003. Carl had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to leave for Memphis College of Art in two days. The college had courted him, after he won an award for artwork he created his junior year of high school.
The night before, Carl and I had sat in his room and talked with each other about his day at work and the pending trip to Memphis. He smiled and hugged me goodnight. He said, “Goodnight Mom. Love you.”
The next morning, I decided to walk the dog before waking Carl. While walking next to his car, I noticed an empty bottle of cough syrup in Carl’s backseat. Instantly, I knew something was wrong. Knowing that teenagers have a tendency to experiment, I had been vigilant for signs of drug abuse in the past and hadn’t seen many. I rushed to his bedroom door only to find it locked. After finding my way in, I discovered Carl lying peacefully in bed, motionless with his legs crossed. He wasn’t responding to my screams, and he wasn’t breathing.
I quickly transformed from mother to nurse and I began CPR, desperately trying to breathe life back into my son. I could not believe my worst fear had happened. My son was dead, but I still did not know what had caused this nightmare.
We are a very close family. I was a very involved mother. Carl had always assured me that he wasn’t using alcohol or drugs. I knew he was a good kid and I believed him.
During Carl’s junior year of high school, I found the first evidence of marijuana in his room. After all the talks and all the reassurances between us; what had changed? I intervened, and didn’t see anything else suspicious until that summer when I found two empty bottles of cough syrup in our basement after a sleepover with friends. I was determined to keep drugs out of our house, but cough syrup? I went to search for answers on the internet, but found nothing and confronted my son instead. Carl explained that he and his friends had experimented, but that nothing happened from the cough srup abuse. I was reassured, once again, that he wasn’t using “hard” drugs and not to worry. Again, I believed him.
During his senior year, I knew Carl had developed an interest for marijuana, but I thought we had addressed it and I didn’t believe that he was abusing any other drugs. So why on that dreadful July morning did I discover my son had passed away during the night?
The next several months after Carl’s death I frantically searched for answers. What signs did I miss?
During my search, I found two more empty bottles of cough syrup. But it wasn’t until after talking with his friends and finding journal entries on his computer, that I discovered that Carl had been experimenting cough syrup abuse intermittently over the past 2 ½ years. He documented his cough syrup abuse in his computer journal. Through the internet and his friends, Carl had researched and educated himself on how to use these products to get high. He wrote about and enjoyed the hallucinations achieved upon intentionally abusing cough and cold products. Carl had described the “pull” that he felt towards the disassociative effects of the abuse of the cough syrup and seemed to crave them.
According to the journal, Carl gradually increased the amount of cough syrup he abused. He wrote that he was increasingly “pulled” to the effects of escape more and more.
As his cough syrup abuse increased, many things in his life were changing: graduation, college, his parents’ divorce, and increasing pressures in his life.
I wouldn’t find out until the morning of Carl’s death what he and many others knew about his cough syrup abuse. The danger that I so desperately tried to keep out of our house had found a way to sneak in secretly. But there were no needles, no powders, no smells, no large amounts of money being spent – none of the “typical” signs associated with drug abuse.
Carl’s autopsy report revealed that he had died from a lethal mix of drugs: Fentanyl, a strong prescription narcotic available in a patch that is removed and eaten to achieve an abusive high. Cannaboids found in marijuana, and DXM, the active ingredient in cough syrup were found in his system.
To this day, I still don’t know where Carl obtained the narcotic Fentanyl. There are no journal entries that talk about his use of painkillers. Was this his first time? Was he looking for a different high? I will never know why Carl made the wrong choice to abuse prescription and over-the-counter drugs. I only know parts of his story by the words he left behind in his journal; his words are now silent.
I have spent many hours trying to find the reason for this unexplainable tragedy. If loving my son were enough, Carl would have lived forever. But I know now that abuse of over-the-counter and prescription drugs is rapidly emerging. Parents and their children need to be made aware of these lurking dangers – and keep up on the latest teen drug trends.
Be involved in your kids’ lives and talk to them regularly about the dangers of drugs — even cough syrup. Don’t be afraid of questioning them. Don’t be afraid of being a pest.
It is with a heavy heart and eternal love for my son that I share his story to hopefully prevent other families from having to suffer the same heartache.