If my sons, Jack and Nick, had known about the risk of misusing prescription medication, they would have made a difference choice that night. They did not know that prescription drugs could kill them.
WHEN something horrible would happened to other families, I would naturally feel bad for their loss. I never expected tragedy to hit my family. But it did — twice in one night.
It was June 2015 — graduation season. Like many teenagers, my sons, Jack and Nick, went to parties to celebrate. Both came home that night to our Michigan home, making snacks before they went to bed.
The next morning, Jack was unresponsive when I went to wake him up. Panicked, I began shaking him, called 911, and started CPR. I screamed for Nick, who had slept in the basement with his friends. I kept screaming, but Nick never came. Paramedics arrived and took over CPR on Jack. One left and went downstairs because there was another 911 call that had come from my basement. Nick’s friends had called because they heard me call for him, and when they went to wake him, he was unresponsive, too.
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When the paramedics arrived, my mind went blank. I sat there as they tried to bring my sons back to life. I later learned that my sons had experimented with the prescription drug, hydrocodone, that someone had brought to the party.
The thought of Jack and Nick experimenting with prescription drugs had never crossed my mind. My sons were typical kids. They were learning who they were and they would certainly test boundaries, but they also were not children we thought would experiment with prescription drugs. We had “the talk” at our house, discussing drug use, underage drinking, safe sex — topics you are supposed to address with your children. But still it happened to us.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, overdose deaths among 15-to-19-year-olds spiked more than 19 percent between 2014 and 2015. The CDC also found that nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription drug. In 2016, CDC reports more than 42,000 people died nationally, about 764 in Washington state from opioids.
To increase awareness and reach families about the dangers of prescription medication misuse and abuse, including opioids, my husband and I started the 525 Foundation. (The boys loved hockey and 525 is a special way for us to memorialize who they were: Jack wore the number 5, Nick, 25.)
We expected to have 15 people at our first public speaking engagement. More than 200 parents and family members attended.
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I realized then there are many parents terrified they, too, could lose their children. It reinforced the importance of talking about prescription medication, opioid misuse and abuse, and educating young people about the resources available to them.
More importantly, it cemented my purpose to honor Jack and Nick and help others through the 525 Foundation.
Through my experience, I’ve realized that it is not a matter of if your children are going to be in a situation like this, it is a matter of when.
It’s important to help your children develop an exit plan, so they know how to get out of a party or a situation they do not want to be involved in. It could be as simple as texting you for a pickup, or establishing a code word with a close friend that signals that they want to leave.
Children should have an exit plan in peer-pressure situations, because you won’t always be there. It potentially could save your child’s life.
If Jack and Nick had known about the risk of misusing prescription medication, they would have made a difference choice that night. They did not know that prescription drugs could kill them. Now, I’m working with Walgreens to raise awareness, and to do everything I can so this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s children.
At Thursday’s WE Day Seattle, a youth empowerment event, I shared Jack and Nick’s story with thousands of youth. Together, we can combat opioid misuse and abuse. We can raise awareness of the tools and resources Walgreens offers through the #ItEndsWithUs campaign, and how people should safely dispose of prescription drugs at take-back kiosks in Walgreens stores.
The We generation can end this epidemic.
I am confident that together, It Ends With Us.