Garrett Holman never saw his twenty first birthday

garrett holman

by Garrett’s Dad, Donald A. Holman

Garrett’s 21st birthday was on February 17, 2017, but he never saw it. He died on February 9th just 8 days prior to his third overdose in 2 months. Garrett is a statistic of the current Opioid Crisis and makes up less than 1% of the victims that died that day from drug related Overdose or suicide in the US.

Garrett was born and grew up in Lynchburg, VA living in the same house most of his life with my wife, Bobbie, me and his sister Kristen.  He established friendships in Grammar school that carried through High school and spent endless hours playing Football, Basketball, and lacrosse as well as Wake boarding in the summer and snowboarding in the winter.

I would prefer to spend time talking about all the good qualities and the person Garrett really was but that would take a long time.

Garrett was diagnosed at an early age with ADHD

He took medication to help him concentrate in school.  One of the side effects of ADHD medication is loss of appetite which presented an issue an athlete that enjoyed playing sports.   As Garrett grew older, he resisted taking the medication–partly because he didn’t like the way it made him feel, and partly because emotionally, he felt it was what everyone else wanted and not what he needed.

I now know that Garrett started self-medicating early in High School. And like so many, he was introduced to marijuana and was convinced that it was a natural alternative to the ADHD Medication and he had a list of reasons why it was safe.  As parents, we were not aware and it wasn’t until the 11th Grade that his behavior really started to concern us due to several incidents of him getting into trouble.

However, he had many more good days than bad and it seemed to be just a rebellious stage. Or at least we hoped.

Our focus was to make sure he kept his grades up so he could graduate High School and hoping he would mature so he could go to college.  With constant pressure and push, he was able to graduate and even get accepted to Liberty University for the Fall Semester.

Once he got out of High School, he struggled with the transition from child to Young adult.

He never adapted to college and ended up dropping his classes that semester.  As parents we went through so many different scenarios–trying to set boundaries and rules to trying to get him treatment for anxiety and depression.

Garrett was very strong minded and as a result of defiance and bad decisions, he started to get into legal trouble. He quickly fell into a downward spiral and soon the focus was on keeping him from a felony conviction and going to jail.

Like so many parents, we would make excuses for Garrett’s behavior to friends, family, and coworkers but never revealed the extent to which his illness had progressed. This is where the Stigma plays a tough role in the person afflicted as well as the Family that supports them.

Mental Illness, Substance Abuse, and Addiction are not things that people want to talk about or other people want to hear.

I never gave up hope and I was proud of my son

I did not want to imply that he was any more than a little wild and would settle down soon and be on track.

Unfortunately, meeting legal obligations took precedence over any treatment for Mental Health or Substance Abuse.  He was under a lot of pressure but the whole time still struggling with the need to escape reality. He needed medication for Anxiety but due to his legal issues and his tendency to abuse, he was never diagnosed or treated properly.

Finally someone told him about a Synthetic Opioid that would not show up on a drug test and that is all he heard. Some time in November 2016, he ordered a synthetic Opioid U-47700 online and it was delivered to the apartment by the mail carrier. So today, the mail carrier can inadvertently be the new drug dealer.

This was the beginning of the end

Garrett overdosed the first time in early December 2016 and I had to perform CPR until the paramedics arrived to administer Naloxone and transport him to the Hospital. Once he awakened in ICU, it was obvious that this was not the wakeup call we had hoped, so he was forced into a mental health evaluation by us.

The system is weak and he was only required to stay 5 days.

From there, he reluctantly went into a 30-day in-house treatment program but a week after he got out, he overdosed the second time and once again I called 911 and gave him CPR until Paramedics arrived and revived him. I forced him into a second evaluation but the judge decided he did not belong in a mental health facility and released him on Feb 6, 2017.

His final overdose was three days later on Feb 9, 2017. His cause of death was determined accidental as a result of mixed drug use. He had taken the synthetic Opioid U-47700 and Xanax.

I am not sharing my story because I have the answer, I am sharing because I am sure I am not alone and I would like to do my part to make it easier to have the conversation.

You may read a headline about the opioid epidemic and get information about Heroin, or fentanyl-laced Heroin or maybe over prescribing of Pain medication. All of which are relevant and still carry the negative stigma and in many cases the opinion that a person addicted made a choice and deserves what they get.

My son’s Opioid exposure was less than 2 months. He did not have time to hit bottom. At 20 years old, I do not believe my son deserved to die for his initial bad choices.

I do not have the answer, I just think everyone needs to be asking the questions.

If it were called heroin, would a doctor prescribe it?

18 thoughts on “Garrett Holman never saw his twenty first birthday”

  1. Donald thank you for so eloquently sharing your son Garrett’s struggles. His story is very similar to that of my son who ended his life almost two years ago at the age of 28. I am so sorry for your loss.

    1. Tjwanna, I know you still feel the pain and no matter how old they were or how long it has been, we still carry the weight. I am sorry for your loss and I pray you find purpose in the new norm. I have not figured out what that looks like yet but know it will never be the same. Thank You.

  2. This breaks my heart and makes me mad at the same time. How in the world can drugs be sold through the internet??? THEY SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE, ANYBODY ELSE WOULD BE IN PRISON!!!!

    1. It’s called deep internet. Easy to order. It’s hard to trace the sources. They have but as soon as they shut one down, another pops up. What’s worse is that you can order drugs by text and have them delivered to the driveway! I know because my son who died by suicide did this. I had no idea.

    2. There are so many different scenarios for people falling victim to drug related overdose or suicide. The tools used to treat mental health and addiction today are equivalent to shoveling sand with a fork.
      I do not know what the best solution is but I do know what doesn’t work. Thank You.

  3. Addiction of any kind is very tough to deal with. I understand everything you said and everything you tried to do to help your son. Even though my brother did not have an opioid addiction, he was an alcoholic. He came so close to dying several times, but the last time came one Sunday morning. He was by himself. He fell and hit his head on a sharp object. He died right where he landed. My heart goes out to you and your family to watch everything unfold as it did. he is now free from any addiction and from the chains that kept him down. May God give you and your family peace and understanding.

    1. Beth, I am so sorry for your pain and your loss. I agree, Alcoholism is a terrible addiction and unfortunately some in recovery lean to alcohol which is basically trading one addiction for another. Thank You.

  4. I am so, so sorry for your loss. And such a senseless loss – the availability of these products is nothing short of unconscionable.

    As the mom of a 14 year old dealing with ADHD – who starts high school next month – I constantly ask myself what we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen to him. I have a 24 year old nephew who had ADHD, anxiety and depression. He spent 4 months in prison and now has a felony conviction on his record from dealing marijuana. Fortunately he has never gone as far as opioids – which we are all grateful for. But he has spent the past 5 years in and out of treatment centers. Finally, it seems, he has found himself, is serious about staying clean and is in an almost full-time college program. But it’s still day by day. Even after being clean for 6 months. He will always be “in recovery”; it’s something you’re never “cured” of. Seeing my nephew’s experience first hand scares me even more for our son.

    Saying a prayer for your family this evening. Thoughts are with you.

    1. Susan, I hesitate to give advice since I failed. Share Garrett’s story with your 14 year old in hopes that he may see where bad choices can lead. At 14 social media and drama dominate their lives. Introduction to marijuana gives them a sense of acceptance and a mindset that they can self medicate. All I want out of sharing Garrett’s story is to have one person say “Garrett Saved Me”. I always new Garrett was capable of doing great things, I have not let go of that dream. Prayers to you.

  5. Heartbreaking…when is our country going to do something about mental health/addiction? Once a child is 18, a parent is helpless if his/her child will not comply. Police and paramedics are not very helpful either because their hands are tied. It’s a travesty!!

    1. We experienced exactly what your wrote. At 18 they are supposed to be magically mature and grown up enough to take total responsibility for their actions. If they are not then as parents we are forced onto the sidelines. I was asked by a co-worker what I would have done differently, my response was, “I would have handcuffed him to me so I could be with him 24 hours a day”. Sad, desperate answer. Thank You.

  6. Donald thank you for sharing your sweet boys story here. Especially given you are still in the raw stages of early grief. I hope that by continuing to speak up and share our stories we will help bring change. Holding space for you and your family. 💙

    1. Thank You Jenny. As I mentioned prior, I hope one day to here someone say “Garrett Saved Me”. He is still alive in my heart and if by sharing just one person makes a life saving change, that is an honor to my son. Thank You.

  7. I am so very sorry for your loss. I feel like I am reading about my own 15 year old son…he is struggling…substance abuse…legal issues…School failure…I am so afraid for him. I had no idea you could order synthetic heroin via the mail ! This terrifies me. 😩 Thank you for educating me about this…and again I can’t imagine the pain you and your family are feeling.

    1. Please read my reply to Susan. In your case I would just add a few points. It is hard but the legal system is not set up to treat mental illness and substance abuse. We spent more time and money fighting legal battles than treating Mental illness and substance abuse. At the very end I finally gave up on the legal and told my son I did not care about anything but keeping him alive. I wish I would have done that sooner. The next is, no matter how painful the struggle is for him and the family, no one is better off if he is gone. The feeling of loss and hopelessness is like a sucker punch to the gut where you never fully catch your breathe. When you feel like giving up, smack your self in the face and fight back harder. Prayers to you and your son.

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