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Samuel J.

By Samuel's mom, Lisa

Samuel Johnston


My story of a child with addiction is a little different in that he didn’t get prescribed opioids for a surgery or for pain management of any kind. Unfortunately, and honestly, I have to put together pieces. I don’t know exactly how Sam got to the point of using heroin and meth. I never asked him about it. I didn’t know he was to that point until it was too late for him to talk about it.

Sam was creative, stubborn, sensitive, protective, loyal, and a perfectionist. He was reserved, liking to study things from afar before joining in. He felt things to his core and was sensitive to the feelings of others but didn’t like to share his own emotions. He was very self-disciplined, delving deeply into any of his interests and practicing until he conquered them. Earlier in life, this manifested in mastering flips and twists in skateboarding or spray-painting graffiti and painting murals; later on in life, his love of custom knife making proved to be his passion. He thrived and had a world-wide following. He planned to continue this as a lifelong career.

I believe Sam’s drug use started as a fairly young teenager. It was just plain old peer pressure.

I homeschooled my boys from about 2nd grade on. I felt it was the “stable” thing to do. I was in a marriage that wasn’t the best. There were signs of my ex-husband having the “addictive gene”, as it was in his family history and alcohol was a more powerful force than fatherhood was… at least at that time. We had already moved a couple of times and I didn’t want the boys to continually be changed from school to school. Ultimately, that marriage ended in divorce and I continued, as a single parent, homeschooling, until the boys reached high school level. At that point, It was a whole lot more involved than I wanted to tackle, so I enrolled them in high school.

And here is where I second guess myself everyday!! Did me putting them in “mainstream” school steer them towards the unexplored! Did the fact that they hadn’t had to deal with peer pressure up ‘til now, drive them to try to impress? Did they not know how to say “no”? Had I not equipped them for the “real world”?

At some point, Sam tried marijuana. At this time, I, as well as his father, did not really look at pot as being anything but a social drug. I had smoked weed in my earlier years and didn’t really put it in the same category as a hard drug. I really didn’t consider it a “gateway” drug. So consequently, I didn’t really come down too hard on his smoking pot every now and then.

Oh, if I could only go back to that time. This is the time I believe peer pressure and the wrong “friends” came into the picture. Sam got mixed up with the wrong crowd and I believe he must have started with trying pills along with pot. This is where a LOT of the unknown comes in for me. I can only assume and look back on things that were plain as day now! Then, I either chose to turn a blinds eye or ignore it in hopes that I was looking at it all wrong.

In Sams' later teen years, he shifted to IV use of drugs…. Heroin! His dad and I found out and quickly tried to get him into some sort of treatment. Of course, the lack of affordable resources for us at that time, about 10 years ago, was a big stumbling block. By his choice, Sam ended up on methadone. I honestly didn’t know much about his choice. He had done the research and came up with this as his way of “getting clean”. He actually educated me on this form of treatment. This worked very well for him for many years.

Sam started educating and teaching himself the ins and outs of knife making. Long story VERY short… He ended up becoming a world wide known self-taught knife maker. His knives were sought after around the globe. He had thousands of people that followed his adventures in this knife making world.

At some point, he decided for multiple reasons that he could begin the process of coming off the methadone. He started decreasing the mg dosage of his daily amount of methadone. He did it in such a gradual way and took a long time in doing so, that I really felt like he was doing it the right way. I even encouraged him. (Sadly so). I really don’t know when the shift happened, but he wasn’t strong enough to beat the withdrawals of methadone. He also had a new girlfriend that later we found out, along with her mother, was actually a dealer!! That sure didn’t help matters any.

I started noticing his lack of communication, he was asking for money for materials for his knives. He wanted me to use my PayPal account to help with his money flow from customers. In some of his videos where he showed his latest knife, his hands were shaky. I attributed all this to withdrawing from the methadone. How wrong I was! He was dope sick from needing his next dose of heroin or meth. Looking back there were soooo many signs! Did I ignore them and try to tell myself that it wasn't what it was? YES!! I wanted to believe that it wasn't true.

Well, to bring the story full circle. He had some trouble with the law in Idaho… he was arrested for a felony possession of methamphetamines. He had to go back and forth for court, and by this time, was so deep into the drugs, he missed court dates. He ended up having a bondsman on the hunt for him. This was his ultimate demise. He ended up in prison in Idaho for almost a year. He got sober, as much as one can, in prison. We had high hopes for him. He completed a rehab program in prison. And was released with strict stipulations, to my care back in NC. He of course had rules he was to adhere to.

He arrived here, in NC, on July 16th, 2019. He stayed here, with me and my husband. We had plenty to keep him busy and had laid the groundwork for a transition back to the county where he could be close to his shop and close to transportation for his business. We knew he was overwhelmed by this transition and knew he felt he had a long uphill climb. We had no idea just how overwhelmed he was! On July 25th…. I dropped him off to stay with his dad for the weekend. The next day he had plans to hang out with an old, sober friend… at least that’s what we thought. July 26th was the last anybody heard from him. My last message from him. “Everything is fine.”

We found him under a bridge four days later. He had overdosed that July 26th night, 2019. Likely just because his tolerance was low and his system couldn’t handle it. As of this writing, I still don’t have the autopsy report. It really doesn’t matter…. I don’t have my son. That’s what matters!

So many takeaways from this story! I wish more than anything that I knew then what I know now…. So many regrets, so many things I would change. But none of that matters… What matters is what I do with what I know now. I will do my son proud and not let his death be in vain. I will hopefully help others to not have to experience the loss of a child. And I will help my remaining son, to NOT travel the same road! I am better equipped to help him and hopefully watch him travel the road to recovery.


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