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Today, Here & Now starts a series of conversations about the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic that is hitting many parts of the country. Host Robin Young talks with a mother from Massachusetts who is part of a movement to treat addiction as a health issue, and not a moral failure.
When Ann Ahearn-Avitabile's younger son, James, died of a heroin overdose two years ago, the family did not mention the cause of death in his obituary. But when her oldest son, Patrick, died of an overdose just two weeks ago, Ahearn-Avitabile decided not only to mention his battle with heroin addiction in the obituary, but also to call the local newspaper and invite them to the funeral.
Robin Young also speaks with Ann Ahearn-Avitabile's one remaining son, Kevin Avitabile, about their family's struggle with addiction.
On James' football injury and a prescription
Kevin: "My youngest brother it started, we played football together. He broke his collar bone his freshman year of football. He was first prescribed the opioids at that age. I have had the opportunity to play with people in the NFL and he was by far the best athlete I've ever been around. He was unreal. James – he was just phenomenal. Within a year, he went from playing football with me to being on the edge of dropping out of high school and getting into trouble. The thing with my brothers – I mean, they’re big, strong, stubborn young men who thought they could do it themselves."
On Patrick's addiction
Kevin: "You know even my older brother, Patrick, even up until recently, he was sober for what would have been a year last week, and he still thought, towards the end, he got cocky. He got too confident that he could do it himself."
Ann: "He got a real job. A good job, and he was excited. He had everything going for him. The disease began to slip in, and I said to him very recently, ‘the second you think that you can control it, it begins to control you.’ And little did I know that the disease had slipped in. And so here we are, which is a shock. And I know he’s kicking and screaming that it was a mistake, but there’s no way to change it."
Strengthened through advocacy, but still suffering
Kevin: "With [the death of] my father, we went from a family of five to a family of two in 24 months. You know, this Christmas will just be me and my mother. I probably get the saddest when I think about what could have been for my family – the lost hope. You know, I hate the word potential, because ‘potential,’ it just means you haven’t lived up to it yet and that’s what I saw in my brothers a lot of the time. They were smart, they were good-looking, they were athletic, and they just had lost potential. And we’re trying to function as well as we can, but inside, oftentimes it’s very, it can be very – "
Ann: "A very lonely path."
This segment aired on September 8, 2015.