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.