My son Elijah died one month before his 22nd birthday.
This is a sample of what I shared on Facebook right after he died. I wanted 100 people to share it and I hoped it would help one person. To my surprise, it has had more than 9,600 shares. I became an advocate overnight. I continue to share “Eli-ism’s” because no one should have to endure a loss as I have. That his family has. That his friends have.
I want to help others: a parent who suspects drug use but isn’t quite sure; an addict who is in recovery, who thinks a little bit won’t hurt; someone in active addiction who says they are “SUPER careful.”
These are the things I have learned about my son’s death by talking to the police, coroner, Eli’s friends who live with Substance Use Disorder, his friends in recovery, his friends who do not use, the people who spent his final days with him, people who work in the recovery field, and some from Eli himself.
- Eli suffered from Substance Use Disorder. His drug of choice was heroin. Parents, please do not believe your child is not using heroin because you do not see needle marks. Heroin can be taken in other ways, as Eli did in the beginning.
- My son DID NOT die from a heroin overdose.
- Eli’s friends say he was “a SUPER careful user.” He had NEVER overdosed.
- At any time, you can drive down a street in North St. Louis with your windows down and drug dealers will throw samples of their product in your car.
- Eli spent a lot of time in recovery. His recovery did not follow a linear timeline.
- A few days before his death, Eli started a new job. It was the first job he had where he would utilize his education from college. He was very excited about his bright future.
- On his first day of work, he had a surprise drug screen and tested negative for all substances.
- Two days before he died, he drove to North St. Louis and purchased heroin on the side of the road.
- The day before he died, he attended his favorite NA meeting. Those who spent time with him that day said he did not have any signs of use.
- A few hours before he died, he hung out with his sister and friend; he still had not used any drugs.
- At 6:45 a.m., I went to check on Eli to make sure he was up and getting ready for work. I found him sitting on the side of his bed with his head laying on his nightstand. I thought he was asleep. I reached out to touch him and he was cold.
- Sometimes, users unknowingly buy Heroin laced with Fentanyl. Fentanyl is a synthetic Opioid that is 100 times more potent than Heroin. It is often used in patch form for patients in hospice care.
- Eli’s toxicology report showed there was NO Heroin in his system. He had Fentanyl laced with Xylazine, a horse tranquilizer, in his system. A normal dose of fentanyl is .1. His level was 6.8 — 68 times the normal dose. More than likely, the tiniest drop (of fentanyl) entered his system and he was gone.
- Elis’s case is closed. Another addict dies. The dealer keeps selling poison. Life goes on. But not for me, not for those of us who loved Elijah.
While Eli was still alive, I wanted to understand his substance use — part of the “radical love” we surrounded Eli with as he struggled. I attended many related groups, including Partnership for Drug-Free Communities in Madison County.
Now, I work at Chestnut Health Systems as a community health specialist, helping to create the Bond County Recovery Council, a place where community members can come together to raise awareness and educate about substance use disorder and to support recovery efforts.
On Thursday, September 23, at 7 p.m. I will participate in a recovery panel at facebook.com/chestnuthealthsystems in honor of recovery month. Please take some time to tune in (or watch the recording) of the panel. We will talk about the importance of community support for people in recovery; the importance of family support; the community costs of ignoring substance use; how and where family members can seek help; and getting educated on addiction and recovery.