I am a pharmacist and graduated from Duquesne University. I grew up in Weirton, West Virginia, near the Pittsburgh area. I met my wife and had two beautiful children. We both came from close-knit, Italian backgrounds, always aware of friends and family. I always preached to my kids the do’s and don’ts and dangers of drugs and alcohol. I want people to know if this can happen to my family, it can happen to anyone.
My life was forever shattered on Thursday, March 14, 2019 when my twenty-year-old son passed away from a mixture of cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl. He went from an honor student in eighth grade to severe addiction by twelfth grade – in four short years. It has been six months but feels like yesterday when we found him lifeless in his bedroom.
My son, Sal, was a good, funny, happy boy. He loved the outdoors (fishing and hunting) and excelled in school and wrestling through youth and high school. We noticed a change about ninth grade when he was 14 or 15 years old. We sent him to counseling and we saw doctors. They said he passed all depression screenings, but could not pinpoint any reason why he was acting out. He admitted to me after high school that he began to self-medicate for anxiety (which many teens do). He started with alcohol, moved to nicotine, then marijuana; that’s as much as he would tell us willingly. I would find Alprazolam, Ritalin, and Oxycontin in his room that he periodically purchased on the street.
I knew after his first semester in college that he had progressed even further. He was home after one semester, and his addiction was worse. We tried tough love and gave him a choice of going to rehab or moving out. He packed his suitcase and left. It broke our hearts, but my wife, his younger sister, and I hoped he would hit rock bottom and realize sobriety was the answer. He stayed on his own for six months or so, but he had a job, lived with friends, and we would check up on him often, washing and buying him clothes and food.
He came back home for the winter and said he wanted to try sobriety. He went to a doctor and got on some medication but would not always take it. He was rarely sober. I could only talk to him one or two days a week when he wasn’t using. I pleaded rehab but he came back with, “just let it go, you can’t fix me.” I can’t even imagine his struggle. Since he was over 18, we could not force rehab admission if he was not willing.
It was a horrible way for us to live, but it had to have been much harder for him. He would often apologize to us for being a burden. I always said to him just, “Try. Try. Please try.” It breaks my heart now knowing he was trying – just by him coming back home and walking through that door, sleeping in his own bed under our roof, and that was hard for him.
Then, 2019 came and he was struggling to even work or function daily without using something. He partied for days at a time but would tell us he was staying with friends, trying to cover it up. Then his final week came; it was another two-or-three-day party binge. The night before he died, his friend overdosed. Sal was there and started CPR. When the boy was given Narcan, he survived. Sal was so distraught, but even this could not stop him from using; it was his way of coping.
The next night, he combined alcohol, cocaine, and heroin (laced with fentanyl). He came home, walked upstairs, lied down, went to sleep, and never woke up. I take solace in that the coroner said it was like a deep sleep and his system (heart and lungs) just shut down. He had no pain, just went into a deep and eternal sleep. He probably thought he was going to wake up and do it all over the next day. I pray he is at peace now, a peace he couldn’t find here on earth. That’s all I can hope for.
This is why I’m sharing my story. I wish I had one more day to tell him I love him and to “try” one last time to help him but I know it’s purely for selfish reasons and guilt. I wrote him a poem called, “My Beautiful Boy,” and read it to him hoping he hears it. I think it sums up what addiction did to us.