I grew up in Port Richmond and worked in the dental field for 24 years, but am now a real estate agent. I am currently a mother of four living in Philadelphia. My first son’s name was Frankie. He was a good kid and never got in trouble. He was just a normal kid with friends and a girlfriend. He went to Catholic school and eventually became a welder. When he was 17, I found out he was using marijuana and confronted him about it; he told me everybody was doing it. As bad of an excuse as it was, I thought it could be worse. I realized things actually were getting worse the day of my grandmother’s funeral in 2011. On the way there, Frankie was really sick and began vomiting when we got out of the car. He told me that he hadn’t eaten breakfast and was feeling sick. While we were sitting at the funeral, I noticed him dozing off with his head dipping often; his eyes looked unusual. I asked him what was going on, and he said he was up late with friends. The next week I got a call from my mother that someone had stolen jewelry out of her home. This is when I knew Frankie was becoming seriously addicted to something.
I contacted Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services and was told that Frankie had to call them because he was over eighteen. He was told to report to St. Mercy’s hospital with ID and a urine sample. After dropping him off, he called me crying saying that his ID wasn’t being accepted. He had a Levittown address on it, which was his dad’s address. The next morning, we got a new ID for him from PennDot and returned to the hospital. Frankie was denied service again because he did not have the right insurance. Once that hurdle was handled, we were turned away again because the hospital did not have an available treatment bed. Frankie broke down and cried. He told me that he was addicted to Percocet and never meant for it to get this far.
We eventually got him into detox and after five days, he was sent into rehab by the hospital. When Frankie came home from rehab, I noticed he was out often and things were starting to go missing again. I was convinced he was using. It was an ordeal getting him back into treatment because he refused to admit that he was using. There were several arguments, but he finally decided to enter detox again. He spent 42 days in rehab, but was forced to leave due to issues with the insurance company’s policies. I was unaware that Frankie left rehab and eventually found out from my father that he had been moved into a halfway home. Frankie didn’t want me to know that he had been moved because he was scared I would panic. Frankie eventually called me and told me where he was. I became extremely worried because the halfway home was in the neighborhood where Frankie had been getting Percocet. That Saturday, he visited me and asked for blankets; the halfway home didn’t have any. I asked if he had been drug tested by the halfway home, and he told me no. I told Frankie to come stay at our house, and I’d keep an eye on him. He refused and said that he was doing well and would stay where he was. I realized things were going bad for Frankie when he brought a 35 old man to my home who told me he was proud to be using heroin. I told Frankie that I was worried the man would rob us and they had to leave, but he just kept telling me that it was okay; his friend was in recovery too. Frankie’s curfew was soon, so he had to leave. When he left, he hugged and kissed me more than he usually did. I felt something was wrong.
I was so anxious that I couldn’t sleep in my bed. I had to sleep on the couch near the front door. I woke up around nine in the morning and soon heard a loud knocking at the door. I opened the door to police officers who showed me a picture of Frankie. They asked me if I knew who the person in the photo was. I told them it was my son and they handed me a pink slip of paper. They told me to contact the Medical Examiner. I asked why I should call the medical examiner and was told “evidently, your kid died.” They then walked away. I was overcome with grief and fell to the ground. I hit my head on the radiator, blacking out. My neighbor saw my feet sticking out the front door and checked up on me. He asked what happened and I began to scream that my son was dead. I was so frantic that my neighbor had to call my father for me. I told my father the situation and he called the Medical Examiner; it was indeed Frankie. Most of his possessions in the halfway home were stolen by the time I got there.
Apparently someone had injected Frankie with heroin, put the syringe in his hand, and locked him in the bathroom. He could have been saved if someone found him. I thought these halfway homes were safe, but I was wrong. I don’t think Frankie was mixed with the best group of people. Everyone in the home was recovering from heroin except for Frankie, and I believe one of them introduced him to heroin. My whole life changed when Frankie passed away. My kids lost the mother they knew and lost the father figure they saw in Frankie. It’s not just one person that suffers, it’s a whole family. I had such a difficult time that I lost my job and couldn’t keep up with the bills; we lost our home. My father passed away soon after Frankie from cancer. Before he passed, he told me that I had to keep my head up and be the one to care for everyone. I started picking myself up and found employment again.
I’m far from the only parent whose been forced to deal with this; 17 other people from Frankie’s graduating class have died of overdoses. Many mothers write in their children’s obituary that the cause of death was a heart attack because they don’t want to deal with the stigma attached to opioids. Since Frankie passed, more and more die each day from opioids and more people find themselves in the position I’m in. I wanted to help them. I participate in several online help groups to give advice to other parents who are struggling to figure out the best response to their children’s substance use disorder. Several parents are at the end of their rope and can’t deal with the situation, but I advise them to stay supportive of their kids. As hard as it is to deal with all of their kid’s issues, it’s even worse to deal with their death. It’s important to investigate the treatment programs and halfway houses your kids go into. You have to be the biggest advocate for your child because they’re not in a state to advocate for themselves. As sickening as it is, there are people out there trying to make money off this disease. You and your child have a choice in their treatment and if you’re ever refused that choice, let your voice be heard. People are noticing what’s happening and are starting to listen. All of us have to stand together and say, “It’s our kids. It’s our brothers, our sisters, and we’re not going let this happen anymore.
Frankie’s addiction to opioids began when he had his wisdom teeth pulled and was prescribed 50 Percocet. Doctors are still prescribing absurd amounts of painkillers and it needs to stop. We need to come down harder on those selling these diverted medications but also need to stop sending users into jail; it’s not helping anyone. We need to change our perceptions of people with substance use disorder, they’re not criminals. It’s not something that just happens to bad people with no self-control, it impacts everyone. Just because you come from a high socio-economic background and are an involved parent, doesn’t mean your kids are immune to this epidemic. Several people believe that Frankie’s addiction was a choice. While it might have been his choice to use the first time, it wasn’t after the initial use. Addiction runs in our family, my father was addicted to heroin upon returning from Vietnam. Frankie was diagnosed with ADHD at a young age but wasn’t treated for it once he turned fourteen. Parents often don’t realize when their kids start using drugs, and that’s why it’s so important to stay informed.
This is why I am sharing my story, so other parents can learn from it. I have to live the rest of my life without my son, and I don’t want any other parent to deal with that. I want other parents to know that anyone can be saved, it’s just a long difficult road. Those who are walking this difficult road need to make their stories known. By telling our stories, other parents become informed and better equipped to help their kids. If we can help just one parent prevent what happened to Frankie, it’d be worth it.