A good number of the parents I work with have sons or daughters who are using some illegal psychoactive drug. In many cases, this is marijuana, which, although not typically deadly, has been a major contributor to problems transitioning to adulthood. Closer to home, my cousin’s son died of an opioid overdose, likely Fentanyl, and he and his ex-wife have to live with a grief that never goes away. The saying goes – lose your parents, lose your past; lose your spouse, lose your present; lose your child, lose your future. The sadness and grief never end.
In hopes of educating and helping parents who may have young adults who are using or experimenting with illicit drugs, I want to share a letter I received from a mother who has had to face the devastating loss of her son. Two things to keep in mind as you read this and wonder what or if you can do anything to prevent this within your family. First, there is abundant research that shows parents who talk to their adolescents and young adults can prevent drug usage. Second, contrary to what we may popularly believe, young adults are more likely to discuss personal concerns with their parents than with peers.
What started as a series of phone calls from my son’s landlady would change my life forever. I hesitated to answer, partly because I was tired but mostly because I had a feeling it was about something wrong my son had done. So, I decided to ignore the calls. But as the calls continued, I started to get annoyed. So, I sent her a text, a simple “WHAT!” She texted back if my son slept strangely, and I confirmed that he did, describing his unusual sleeping position. Yep, that was how he was sleeping. She asked if he was a deep sleeper, and I responded, “Yes.” So many days it took numerous times to wake him. I finally decided to call her.
The moment I spoke with her on the phone, I knew something was terribly wrong. I asked her to meet me at my son’s place; I grabbed the four Narcan doses I had at home. I rushed there, and she remained outside. I entered his room and saw him on the bed, lifeless. I felt his pulse – there was none. His body was cold and hard, and my worst fear was realized: my son was dead. It took 3 hours for the medical examiner to arrive, so I had time to replay all the instances where I messed up as a parent or wished I had done things differently. My bright and loving son, pictured above, had died of Fentanyl.
I won’t go into the details of what followed, but it was a night filled with pain, shock, and unimaginable grief. I then had to break the news to his sister, family, and friends. I had to relive that moment every time I talked to a person. To this day, I will never forget the scream that came from my daughter when I told her. In that absolutely terrible moment, I found myself struggling with regret and self-blame.
- First, I remembered how I didn’t trust my instincts. Deep down, I had this nagging feeling that something was wrong. I’d look into his eyes and ask if everything was okay, and he’d reassure me. But my gut knew better, and I should have trusted it more. I should have pushed for answers and probed deeper, refusing to accept his vague assurances.
- Second, when I found out that he was using drugs, I would occasionally check his room, thinking I was staying vigilant. Yet, I realized too late that there were other hiding spots I didn’t know about. I should have been more thorough, more relentless in my search for the truth.
- Third, I remember our conversations about expectations, rules, and boundaries. But I now recognize that they were too superficial. I had been clear about saying “no” to drug use, but I hadn’t dug deeper into the reasons why. I didn’t provide him with an understanding of the consequences, the dangers, and the potential impact on his life. In that painful moment, I wished I could turn back time and correct these mistakes. I longed to have been a better parent who could have made a difference in my child’s life and guided him away from his path.
But, days later, as I still struggled with my regrets and grief, I also understood the importance of sharing my experiences to encourage other parents to be more aware, more communicative, and more proactive in their efforts to protect their children from the dangers of drug abuse. Specifically, for me, I want to talk about my enemy, the drug most likely to kill. This is the drug that killed my son – Fentanyl. One pill can kill. The following are some statistics about Fentanyl:
- The CDC estimates more than 110,000 people died from drug poisoning in 2022; 70% of those were from Fentanyl.
- It is the leading cause of death for ages 18-45.
- Fentanyl is involved in 80% of youth drug deaths (higher than any other group).
- There is approximately 1 Fentanyl death every 9 minutes.
If I can give you one piece of advice, it would be to talk to your child about drugs, especially Fentanyl. Here are some tips to make it easier to have “The Talk.”
- Plan To Have the Talk: Give your young adult a heads-up about the conversation and be clear about its purpose. “Tomorrow night, let’s talk about drinking and drugs. You’re not in trouble; I want to discuss where we stand and hear your concerns.”
- Spell Out The Rules: Communicate your rules and their consequences. Clear boundaries make it easier for young adults to resist peer pressure.
- Explain Your Reasons: Be clear about your reasons for prohibiting substance use. Inviting an open, adult conversation can help your young adult understand the potential consequences of drug use.
- Obey The Golden Rule: Treat your young adult with respect as you’d wish to be treated. Show them the responsibility and behavior you expect from them as future adults.
- Let Them Speak: Encourage your young adult to express their concerns and feelings. Listen to their questions and opinions about drugs. Create a safe environment for them to be honest.
- Offer Unconditional Amnesty: Consider having an “amnesty policy” where your young adult can call for help without facing severe repercussions. Safety is the priority.
- Have Ongoing Conversations: Keep the conversation open and continuous. Adolescence and young adulthood are times of change and challenge. Please make sure they know they can always ask questions or voice concerns. It’s never too late for parents to engage in open and honest discussions with their young adults about the dangers of drug abuse and other life challenges. These conversations can make a significant difference in helping young people make informed and safe choices. I write this from my heart in hopes it might spare you from having to join my community of grieving parents who have buried their son or daughter.
For continued reading, here is a link to Heather’s list of resources.
- A Letter from A Grieving Mother - November 14, 2023
- Book Recommendation: Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict - November 13, 2023
- When a Young Adult’s Transition to Independence is Complicated by Special Needs - October 27, 2023