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Nick B.

By Nick's step-mom, Julie

Nick Berger

Pottstown, Pennsylvania

My step-son, Nick, passed away on April 25, 2014, due to an overdose of Oxycodone.

To honor Nick and the sober life he was trying to live, it is important to get the message out about the epidemic proportion of opioid abuse and overdose within our state and country at large. Equally important is a national commitment to prevent these tragedies that befall families each day.

Nick was a really great guy and a wonderful son. He grew up in an average middle-class home, surrounded by family and pets who loved him dearly. He enjoyed many activities in High School, including football, ROTC, agriculture, and animal husbandry.

From an early age, nature was Nick’s solace. He enjoyed camping, hunting and fishing. After graduating High School, he worked as a hunting guide in Wyoming for a couple of seasons tracking elk, mule deer, and antelope. During that time, he hunted and fished in Alaska, British Columbia and Canada. He encountered some challenges in the wild but he had good survival skills and could think on his feet.

Nick’s father owned a construction business and when Nick came home he started working for his dad. He was a natural and his father had hopes of passing his business on to Nick someday.

Nick hurt his shoulder while playing a casual game of football and eventually had to have surgery. During his recovery he was prescribed semi-synthetic opioid narcotics. After completing the prescribed dose Nick sought out supplemental prescription medication on the street. When illegal prescriptions became too costly, Nick turned to Heroin.

Nick kept his addiction hidden. His family and closest friends remained clueless about his struggle. He was never in trouble with the law and didn’t miss work. He came home for family meals and was rarely out late. He was always an honest kid, so when he told us something, we believed him.

Slowly, some of his behaviors changed. He became moody. He often asked for his paycheck early, kept coming down with flu-like symptoms and started acting depressed. We didn’t understand what was going on and when asked, Nick said he had a 24-hr bug.

In retrospect, we think that Nick’s opioid drug use went on for at least a couple of years undetected. Eventually, the signs became apparent and when we confronted Nick about it he desperately wanted and welcomed help: “I have a serious drug problem and I can’t control it.”

We made a couple of phone calls and placed Nick in a local 30-day rehab program the following morning. This was mid-December 2013.

Nick’s 30-day program consisted of detox and 12-Step-based therapy. He was a good student; he learned about his disease, engaged in discussions with counselors and other residents, and helped others who were also struggling with their addiction. During this time, my husband and I explored more extensive rehab and recovery programs. We wanted to provide Nick with the best possible education and clean living environment to help him turn his life around. Nick agreed to participate in a 90-day inpatient private pay recovery house and was transported to the facility upon completion of the 30-day program.

Nick worked hard there too and was praised again by counselors. Eventually, he was given some increased responsibilities that involved speaking with and engaging other residents. He was given the opportunity to speak at another facility and had been selected as an interview candidate by CNBC, for a segment they were developing on opioid addiction and recovery houses…all good things to hear as a parent.

When the day finally came for Nick to return home, he was welcomed with open arms. I had posted “House Rules” (No Drinking – No Drugs), that anyone entering our home had to respect. We didn’t push Nick to do too much more than help out around the house and maintain a clean living space since we knew he had to work an outpatient program and participate in the recommended 90 meetings in 90 days. We thought he was doing fine.

With regards to 12-Step meetings, Nick had expressed that he had encountered an occasional attendee, who was counterproductive to the meeting (i.e., was possibly high, had a negative attitude, didn’t want to be there, etc.). However, he liked the successful meetings and was happy to be part of the AA and NA groups. He and I also returned to church on Sundays, which seemed to bring him peace.

After being home just three weeks and one day, Nick’s disease fooled him into using – “just one more time.” I’ve read that it is common for addicts to think they can use just once, or on occasion, without having the same physical reaction as they did before. This warped misconception, accompanied by a completely clean body, often leads to overdose or death.

On Thursday evening, April 24th, 2014, Nick was supposed to go to an outpatient group and then a meeting. He came home late – but, “looked OK,” according to my husband. Nick retired to his room and injected crushed Oxycodone before going to bed. When he fell asleep his lungs stopped and his body shut down. When my husband found him dead the following morning, he tried to give him CPR but it was too late. Nick was 31.

This story is like so many others that I’ve heard. We tried our best to prevent a tragedy like this from happening by providing rehab and recovery opportunities and having serious discussions with Nick and his counselors about the dangers of addiction. This powerful disease remains beyond my comprehension – it is crafty, stealthy, and deceitful. It took my son to a dark place where he didn’t tell anyone about his thoughts or struggles. His mind betrayed him every time he used. Tragedy happens – again and again.

I'm angry that our society has allowed this to happen. I can't bring Nick back, but I can advocate for the clean life that he wanted, and in doing so, hopefully save someone else.


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