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Alex M.

By Alex's mother, Melisa

Alexander Joseph Marks

Huntington Beach, California

July 28, 1993 - February, 5, 2013

The final death certificate from the Orange County Coroner arrived in our mailbox: “Cause of death: acute heroin intoxication.” On February 6th, 2013, my husband found our 19-year-old son, Alex, dead in his bedroom at our home in Huntington Beach, California. I was away on a business trip in Orlando, Florida. I cannot put into words how I felt on that flight home alone knowing that my child was gone. My husband found a needle and heroin on Alex’s desk. We couldn’t believe that he had turned to heroin and were devastated to learn this was the way our son had died.

As you can imagine, we are having a difficult time. The wound is so deep, so raw; we thought he had overcome his addiction. He was working over college break before he was to go back to school to become an electrician. Externally, it looked like he was doing well, but now we understand that internally, he was sick with the disease of addiction. There was no note...we learned later that he had accidentally overdosed because after so many months of being clean, his tolerance was low. Other than that we know very little---the questions and the ‘what if’s’ constantly loom.

During elementary and junior high school Alex was bullied. He had two rare medical conditions; Osteochondromatosis (a rare bone disease) and Von Willebrand (a blood clotting disease), in addition to mental health issues. At a young age he had experiences than no kid should; many surgeries after which he was prescribed pain medications, countless doctor visits, and home health care nurses who administered IV medication. He was diagnosed with ADHD around the 5th grade.

His Grandma died during his freshman year of high school. She had been the rock in his life and he had a hard time living without her. He began self-medicating with pot and alcohol to cover his grief, which eventually led to him using pills and other drugs. Meanwhile, he was having a rough time trying to fit in socially and many of his friends were also using drugs. Alex was not involved in school activities, no matter how many times we encouraged him to get involved.

When his addiction progressed, we admitted him to the University of California, Irvine as well as Loma Linda Medical Center psychiatric hospital. Upon release, he attended a local treatment program and was expected to return to high school after 30 days. We sought help from many medical professionals and he was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder. When nothing seemed to be helping, we sent Alex away again, to Heritage Residential Treatment Center in Provo, Utah where he spent 8 months in a dual diagnosis treatment center. He came home and graduated high school but within a few months he was hanging out with old friends and local’s he’d met in treatment. In December 2011, at the age of 18, Alex was arrested and charged with a felony for receiving stolen property with the intent to sell. He was sent to jail for 7 months.

Alex followed the path of many before him; he was stealing for drug money--for opioids. He ended up with 3 years’ probation with the stipulation that if he completed all that was required, the felony would be removed from his record. These tough learning experiences made him realize that he never wanted to go back to jail. He wanted his freedom--he wanted his life back.

On July 5, 2012, Alex was released from jail at 3 A.M (without guidance or supervision – something I will never understand). Although he was overwhelmed by the court fees and classes he had to take, he was determined to succeed. Once again he was a joy to be around and we believed that the worst was over. He started an electrician training program at Long Beach City College and never missed a day the entire semester.

On Tuesday, February 5, 2013, two young adults came to the house; we believe Alex may have met these “friends” at his court ordered drug classes. We also believe Alex purchased Heroin that day, from these “friends”. Alex returned home from meeting with his probation officer around 7:30 P.M., had some soup, watched the Lakers game with his dad, said “Goodnight, I love you,” and then went to his room. At approximately 5:30 A.M on February 6, 2013, my husband found Alex dead in his room. The corner report stated he had died around midnight.

I'm sure this story is all too similar to many you’ve heard or read before from other families who have been through this nightmare. These past 4 ½ years have been the most difficult of our lives.

One of the most frustrating parts of this journey, was how hard it was to get good help for Alex. I prayed each and every day for God to shine his light upon my son; to bring the right people into his life. He needed someone other than his parents to help him but this did not happen.

My heart aches for all of the teenagers who have left this world because of their addiction. I watch as our entire family endures the pain of this loss. Even his dog, Charlie, is sad.

As you can imagine, writing this is very difficult, but we must not stay silent. We must speak out in order to make the changes that are needed both for mental health and addiction treatment in this country.

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