Our adored son and brother, Sam, died in 2000 from a heroin overdose. He was in his early twenties. Sam was a delight: tall, blond, handsome; a kind, generous, loving person with a highly-developed sense of humour. But he, like others, became trapped in an awful cycle and couldn’t break free despite making continued efforts — sometimes succeeding.
He was so proud when he purchased his car, something he’d never have been able to do if he’d been using. Sam was a difficult baby — fussing and fractious — but once he could get about (he crawled at six months!) he was happy. His early childhood — kindy and preschool — was one of happiness and high energy. Everything went along smoothly until he went to school; then the shit began. He had an ‘experienced’ Grade 1 teacher who belittled him; she tore up his work in front of the class one day. We started a long, horrible, ultimately fruitless journey (with some small diversions) trying to find help for him.
These days I think things would have been better. I hope so. He worked in a number of jobs, none of them — except his carpentry apprenticeship — worth mentioning. He was nearly through his apprenticeship when something happened; we don’t know what. Perhaps a breakup with a girl? He loved the ladies and was the ultimate chick magnet — in fact we sometimes wonder if an unknown grandchild is going to turn up on the doorstep. Wouldn’t that be wonderful!
I do not wear rose-tinted glasses. When he was using, things were indescribably awful. He stole, he pawned stuff, he disappeared for days on end, he smelt bad, and he hung out with some seriously undesirable people. No doubt others viewed him as an undesirable. His efforts at cold turkey (I didn’t recognise them as such then) were monumental and commendable. He must have hated himself when he lapsed…
Sam had plans to leave here to work with his brother in another city when we found him, dead, at home. He had no drug paraphernalia in his room. Someone must have been with him when he last used and must’ve cleared it all away. We haven’t ever discovered who it was and, although we have mostly let it go, I’d still like to know who was there and why they left him. Did he plan to die? We’ll never know. Things had got out of control; I am unsure he’d have seen a way out. He’d crashed his car, written off someone else’s, would have had no insurance cover since he’d given a blood test… Jail might even have been an option although he didn’t have a record; however, I’m sure the police knew of him.
Along this awful path we met many barriers, and some empathetic supporters. The state health department, in their wisdom, denied us access to his history. We understand why, but it would have been so much better had we been in an informed position to help him; his efforts to get clean show that he wanted to. Since his death I’ve been interviewed twice by the same department — they want to get it right now — with respect to families.
Change the law. Stop making criminals of our children. Have compassion and understanding. Pursue the real villains, not the victims. Thanks to Family Drug Support (FDS) and their programs, enlightened people in health departments are taking steps to support (unsure about ‘assist’) families. Had I know about FDS when Sam was alive I acknowledge I would have been better prepared.
– Names have been changed.