On July 10th, 2014 my son Ryan died of a heroin overdose. He struggled with the disease of addiction for 1 ½ to 2 years. An addiction that began with marijuana, then opiates and moved to heroin. The progression was rapid. Ryan was the oldest of our 4 children. Just 23 years old. Ryan was outgoing, intelligent, artistic, creative, energetic, had a goofy sense of humor and a passion for music. So much fun to be around. Ryan excelled in music, art and photography. He was most content when playing guitar, painting, drawing or taking pictures. Ryan’s substance use started at the end of his junior year. We suspected he was smoking pot. We were right. At that time Ryan entered a 30 day outpatient treatment. He attended school and treatment there during the day. Upon discharge, he returned to school to finish out his junior year. He graduated in 2009 and the next few years were uneventful. It was during an ER visit that we were informed he had benzos and opioids onboard. I also noticed that he was often ill with ‘flu-like’ symptoms in the morning but never put all the pieces together that these were withdrawal symptoms. I would ask him how he could be so ill in the morning and feel better in the afternoon? No one gets better this quickly! One day Ryan brought his clothes over to wash. I started his wash for him. I went to grab the items out of the wash to put in the dryer and felt something in one of his socks. I pulled out a needle. How could this be? The kid who cried every year with his flu shot until he was 17! How could he be using IV drugs? We moved Ryan back home and made a visit to the ER. The counselor recommended Inpatient Treatment but there were no beds available in the Twin Cities. No beds!! We brought him home, helped him through his withdrawl symptoms and literally watched him the entire weekend 24 hours a day. During the next year Ryan was in and out of Hazelden four times. When Ryan was in recovery, he and his girlfriend got back together, he was hanging out with his friends again, having fun with his siblings, making music, drawing, painting and laughing. Our Ryan was back. The recovery time was longer but the relapses were more severe. Ryan so very much wanted to get better. I asked him what was so hard and what I could do to help. He said, “Mom the physical and psychological cravings are just unbearable at times.” This was with monthly Vivitrol injections. During this time all our energy was focused on Ryan, keeping him safe and in recovery. Our other three children lacked our attention. What they did receive was the little bit we had left and most of the time that was not much. We didn’t have the patience for even the smallest of their needs. There were times when I would lie down in bed at the end of the night and ask my husband if the other kids were even home safe in bed. This disease affects the entire family and it’s so very isolating. In May I suspected Ryan was using again and we confronted him. He’d been slipping on his meetings and did not want to continue attending day treatment. As parents we were at our wits end, exhausted and in need of help for our son. Again he went back into Hazelden. This time we told Ryan what we were doing at home was not working and on the advice of his coucelors he’d need to move into a Sober House when he discharged. He was extremely angry and would not talk to us for a week. When he and my husband did talk, Ryan said “Dad am I ever going to get better?” “Yep we’re going to get through this together buddy. We can do it.” On July 7th my husband picked him up from Hazelden and helped move him into the Sober House. He was still very angry with us. On Wednesday I went and picked Ryan up after work, brought him some clothes and we went grocery shopping. We talked about how things were going and made plans for the next day. I gave him a hug and a kiss, told him I loved him and how good he looked. On Thursday afternoon I received the call from a St. Paul Police Officer. He told me that my son Ryan died of a heroin overdose that morning. I just kept screaming ‘No’ over and over. This is not how this was supposed to be. He was supposed to be at a Sober House in recovery, safe. We were supposed to work through this.
As parents we feel that we have failed. We could not protect Ryan. The face of addiction has changed. It can be any one of us. No longer can we say “This will never happen to me” as it can and it does. No one chooses to become addicted. The person chooses to use that first time. The drug then chooses them.
My goal is to continue to raise awareness on all fronts; provider education and Suboxone training, healthcare coverage for long-term treatment, naloxone in Sober Houses and kits to dispense in ERs for those patients of overdose. I have also partnered with Adult & Teen Challenge, Washington and Ramsey counties sharing Ryan’s story at public forums to bring awareness to communities in hopes that we can make change happen and break the stigma so individuals and families can reach out and get the help they so desperately need!!
This brief period of my son’s life was not what defined him. Ryan will always be remembered as the funny, talented, creative soul that he was and he would have done great things.
Written by Lori Lewis (Ryan’s Mom)