We lost our 20-year-old son, Collin, to an accidental heroin overdose in March. The police found the person who sold Collin the heroin and he confessed. I was hopeful that a recently revised law, unanimously passed and signed in July, would be used to charge this person. Unfortunately, this has not happened and I suspect the person who sold Collin the drugs could be continuing to use and sell to others. I know what you’re thinking: That’s too bad, but it doesn’t affect me. And besides, if drugs were involved, he must have been a bad kid. Those who know us and who know Collin also know that is not true. Collin had a heart of gold. There are a lot of people who are hurting from his death. While he gave us challenges (what kids don’t?), his dad and I loved him very much. His little brother adored him. His three sisters miss him more than you can imagine. Friends and co-workers truly cared about him. The night of the overdose, he told me he was going to help his grandfather with chores the next day. When my 91-year-old mother passed away just a month before, Collin told me he was a good listener if I needed to talk. The morning before she died, he rubbed lotion on her hands “so they would be soft when she met Jesus.” I could go on and on about what a kind person Collin was and how much he was loved.
My point is the kids who are dying are not bad kids. The kids who are dying are good sons and daughters from loving, caring families. As a community, we need to take our blinders off. I always heard and even said myself, “It can happen to anyone.” Until it happens to you, those are just words. Collin played a role in his death. Without question, he made bad choices. That devastates us as parents, but good kids make bad decisions every day. We knew he started using marijuana and talked to him about our concerns. He would argue, like many, that it should be legalized. No one will ever convince me that marijuana wasn’t the start of what would follow. We have since learned he was looking for pills that night. This person sold him heroin instead. The toxicology report showed three times the lethal dose in his system. I’m sure he thought he was in control, but with drugs, you never are.
I am plagued with guilt. If only we had known, we would have done anything to help him. I look back for signs that should have clued us in. It hurts me even more because I am involved in an anti-drug group of high school students with my daughters. Collin was never interested in joining but would always tell me “not to worry.” I’ve talked to other parents, even those with medical or law enforcement backgrounds, who didn’t see problems in their children, either. You can’t help with something if you don’t know about it. I’m frustrated that those elected to serve us won’t prosecute unless they are “bigger dealers.” To me, they are throwing this little fish back in the pond until he grows up and makes it worth their while. Meanwhile, more will suffer. I hope the next one is not your loved one.
The law does not stipulate a person’s position in the drug chain:
“A person commits a felony of the first degree if the person intentionally administers, dispenses, delivers, gives, prescribes, sells or distributes any controlled substance or counterfeit controlled substance in violation of section 13(a)(14) or (30) of the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L. 233, No. 64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, and another person dies as a result of using the substance.”
What good is the work of our Legislature to revise the laws if they are not enforced? Instead, the message is: There are absolutely no consequences for your actions; feel free to do what you do so more young lives can be lost. Ironically, the person may actually be saved if charged. I don’t wish anyone else’s family to go through this, including the family of the person who supplied the heroin to my son. But not pursuing the case is a missed opportunity to open our children’s eyes to the dangers of experimenting, to tune parent’s radar and to warn those who deal in drugs that we won’t tolerate it. Without our legal system’s support, I will use my own voice and tell anyone who will listen. Since Collin’s death, I have learned there have been at least three recent overdoses in our Millcreek neighborhood.
In 2011, the number of accidental deaths from drugs surpassed vehicle and motorcycle accidents combined. Since we have talked openly about his death, many people have told me similar stories. We need to hear these numbers and share our stories, not bury our heads in the sand. Doing nothing changes nothing. We can’t bring Collin back, but if one kid admits to his or her parents that they need help, if one kid realizes a friend needs help and tells someone, if one kid stops selling or giving drugs to others because of the consequences, then something good can come from our horrible loss.
We miss Collin every day. His little brother, who is wiser than his 12 years, told me he knows Collin wants him to learn from his mistake and he intends to make him proud. We all do. We love you so much, Collin.
MARY KAY EISERT-WLODARCZYK and her husband, Gary Wlodarczyk, have been married for 34 years. A retired Air Force officer, she and her family moved back home to Erie in 2003. She is an architect who works from home. Families who have gone through similar experiences can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.