Last February I found out my son David was using heroin. He died of a heroin overdose on August 11, 2004. I feel I need to tell his story to you. It is a father’s story of his struggle to save his son and the devastating reality of heroin. It is also a story about how, as parents, we’re often naïve about drug addiction.
My wife and I never did drugs and had never been exposed to this horror. My son was never living on the streets, never stole from us and was never arrested. According to his friends, he started using heroin in December 2003. He used for less than a year. He was going to start his junior year studying business at Long Beach State in California. He had a good job as a cart attendant at the local country club where he was highly-regarded. He studied in Europe and had every advantage we could give him. David’s favorite hobby was maintaining a 100-gallon reef aquarium in our house. David was not from a broken home, and we were his original parents, married 25 years. We are both college graduates and live a comfortable, upper-middle-class lifestyle.
Despite my son’s achievements, he was diagnosed bipolar when he was 11. We had a hard time raising him but we never gave up. We tried to bring him structure but he was very strong-willed. According to his psychologist, he started smoking pot when he was 15. We never could tell because his personality always cycled between depression and over-confidence (manic state) so it was hard to see the signs of drug use.
When he was 17, David became a varsity wrestler at his high school. He and six of his friends, all 21 or 22 years old wanted to join a local gym. My wife and I and the other parents all thought this was a healthy thing to do. But there they met a man who was shooting up Steroids and taking Nubain to relax his muscles after working out. This guy apparently had also had problems with heroin.
My son and his friends looked up to this guy and he encouraged them to take steroids to bulk up. Eventually David began taking Nubain after his work outs. Then in June 2001 this man died of a heroin overdose in his car at a local gas station. It was all over the media and my son’s name was mentioned a couple of times in a few of the news stories. He had acted like a big brother to my son had called my son to meet him at 2:30 the very day he died.
During my son’s funeral I learned David had tried other drugs like Ecstasy and Cocaine . However, his friends said my son was the last of the group to try drugs. How naive my wife and I were. We could not see the signs. Finally, his friends talked him into trying heroin. By the time we caught him (actually my younger son alerted me), David was taking five balloons a day by injection.
We immediately brought David to detox and then tried outpatient rehab. It did not work. Next we brought him to a rehab facility but he was only there a week. He wanted out. Rehab is no Shangri La. The reality is that there is no easy cure for heroin addiction and the patient has to really want to get better. No one can get better for him.
For the next five months my son struggled to stay clean. He had a great sponsor and went to Narcotics Anonymous meetings almost every night. Then, on July 8, 2004, just before he turned 21, David stopped taking his medication (naltrexone, lamictal and buspar). He stopped seeing his psychologist and psychiatrist. He wanted to go to Las Vegas for his 21st Birthday. At first I said no. I know he was going to drink and gamble. Finally, I gave in figuring he was going to get depressed, and go with his friends without us. We reserved two rooms for David and his friends at the Flamingo Hilton and they had the time of their life. We took them out for prime rib at the Union Plaza Hotel and now that my son has died, I don’t regret it. (Although I know taking Alcohol , which is a drug, is considered relapsing, even though it isn’t heroin.)
It was all downhill from there. David started drinking more. He drove home stone drunk one night and knocked on the front door at 2:30 in the morning. We had just bought him a new computer for college and we were looking for an apartment for him near the school. I knew something was wrong in his last days because he was not taking care of his fish like he used to. I had just bought him $600 lamps for his tank as a reward for finally getting through his math class and being accepted to Long Beach State. On August 10, David came home from work very angry at his mother and me. He called my wife horrible names and told us he was moving out and did not care whether he died or not. Then he left the house.
The next day my wife got that dreaded police visit to our front door that all parents fear: Our son David had died from an apparent drug overdose. David had checked into a room at a local motel and shot up what appeared to be heroin. The police found a partially used balloon of a white powder, a syringe, a half a coke can and a lighter. We just received the County Coroner’s report and they declared his death as accidental due to heroin intoxication. He had five times the lethal dose of heroin in his blood. The lethal dose is 0.05 micrograms/milliliter of blood. David had 0.25.
My family was devastated. We loved David very much. It was a sad ending to an otherwise full life. My son always lived on the edge. He lived recklessly but experienced many things in his short 21 years. We gave him a beautiful funeral that was attended by hundreds of people. David had a lot of friends. He just didn’t realize it.
I just wanted to share this story so you know that there are many parents out there who are suffering from this horrible disease.
Phil (David’s Dad)