When our 3-year-old granddaughter woke up from where she slept next to her father, the first thing she saw was Grandma screaming at daddy, pulling him by the arms from the couch, pounding on his chest and slapping his face.
She calmly looked at me and said, "Daddy's sick, Grandma, Daddy's sick." I looked her right in the eye and said, "Yes honey, you're right. Daddy's sick."
His lips were blue; his eyes had rolled back. A syringe dangled out of his arm. Less than a month after a near-fatal car wreck, my son was overdosing on heroin—in our home, in front of his mother and his daughter. This was not the first time.
Our son's drug abuse and alcoholism put everyone who loved him through hell, but there are a lot of us who love still him. How could we not? Before the booze and drugs captured him, he was an angel. People were drawn to him, young and old, for he was kind and gentle, beautiful and wise beyond his years.
As a baby, he rarely cried—or smiled. He was very quiet, and his most common facial expression resembled a melancholy weariness. I remember wondering how such a little baby could look so sad. A nagging worry began to grow, but the bond between us was so strong that I naively thought no person or thing could ever come between us.
As a young boy, Carlos was the most thoughtful, observant and calm child I've ever known. He loved nature, animals and a favorite desert arroyo he never tired of exploring. As he grew, Carlos began focusing his attention on the human world, and I watched an anger awaken in my son at the unfairness and cruelty he saw. Sometimes, that cruelty was directed toward him. When he fought back, he found himself in trouble.
In his early teens, he began smoking, drinking and ingesting every mind-altering substance he could get his hands on. He lost interest in everything except getting high. His love for me turned to hatred, and I was stunned.
Carlos had so many close calls and near-death experiences that he told me he believed he could not die. His life began to unravel, and as he lost most everything he once held dear, I think he finally saw that alcohol and drug use was destroying his life. But he could not stop.
He told me several times that he felt God's purpose for him was to show others what not to do with their lives. He told me this with tears, and fear, in his eyes. I watched in horror as his life began a final downward spiral I felt powerless to stop.
He began to tell me he loved me again. After years of not hearing that from him, my heart just ached. It sounded like goodbye. And so it was. On Sept. 21, 2009, he was found dead of a heroin and alcohol overdose in a Tucson apartment.
I have learned there is no bottom to the well of sorrow that comes from losing your child. The hurt never ends. To you parents who have lost kids this way, I can only say this: I know the hell you're going through, and there is no way around it. We just have to keep going through it.
To those responsible for producing and distributing this poison, you so-called drug "lords": I curse your very existence. You prey upon the vulnerable, and you rob us of our children's lives. I hope the spirits of our dead sons and daughters haunt your dreams and turn them to nightmares. I know you don't care about our kids, but what about your own? Do you think your children are safe from this monster?
To you lawmakers who still believe in fighting your stupid "war on drugs": You keep the cartels in business! Wake up! A 3-year-old knew her daddy was sick—not bad, but sick! When will we see drug-addiction decriminalized and the real criminals run out of business?
And most important: When will we finally reach out to the addicted, to help them find what they've lost—themselves?
According to the Pima County Medical Examiner-Forensic Science Center, in 2009, autopsies performed by the office confirmed 182 deaths due to drug overdoses. Though many of those deaths were reported as "mixed drugs," which could include heroin, 25 deaths were specifically the result of heroin.