A Parent's Story

parent story section


“My story is no different from any other mother who is fighting to save their child from this opiate epidemic or who has lost their child to it. It’s a hidden nightmare.”

On January 8, 2012 I received the call that every parent dreads. My son was dead. My beautiful baby boy. The one that looked deep in my eyes while drinking his bottle. The one that reached for my nose and laughed when I made a face. That child that curled up with me and his blankie every morning to start his day. The athlete, the scientist, the explorer, the one that watched cartoons of dinosaurs, TV shows on space, and read the Harry Potter series over and over. The child who was also genetically predisposed to the disease of addiction...that was my son. And now he was gone. My Austin lost his battle to his addiction in a lonely Motel 6 in Bakersfield in which he lay on the floor for three days before anyone was able to find him. He was 23 and had his whole life ahead of him. Austin had been in rehab for 3 months, was working at a machine shop and had decided to use “One last time.” It was his last. A nightmare that many keep behind closed doors because of the stigma of a heroin addict. A “junkie.” But my son’s path to heroin was like so many others: it began with alcohol, pot, and ravaging medicine cabinets and led to finding unethical doctors who would prescribe to him. Austin never had a legitimate reason to be prescribed opiates.

A deep rage and anger crept into my soul with my loss. First, I was very angry at my son for giving me the burden of sadness and sorrow to carry for the rest of my life and second I was angry at society for allowing this to happen. I reached out via social media and found an outpouring of grief and fear from other parents facing the same situation as me. Parents of Austin’s friends who were coping with the same problem stood by my side along with another mother who lost her daughter shortly after Austin died. Working together, the anti-heroin group “Not One More” was born. And five years later we are fighting a problem that has grown exponentially and is causing devastation and grief nationwide.

With the help of colleagues, and combining my passion as a parent and knowledge as a health care professional, we offer some approaches to combat this enemy:

  • Educate our children, at home and at school, that pills can kill, even one. Lock up or dispose unused and expired medications so that they are not readily available to others.
  • Schools should offer early intervention and follow through with kids who are at risk.
  • Lifting the stigma of any addiction so that patients can be loved, supported and encouraged to a path of recovery.
  • Those addicted to opioids need to be educated on harm reduction and provided naloxone.
  • Parents need to think twice before allowing underage drinking and smoking pot.
  • Medical staff, hospitals, and pharmacies need to be proactive in using the CURES program to track use and identify over-prescribers.
  • And finally, the most powerful painkillers need to be rolled back to their original purpose, used only in the end of life pain management.

Prior to Austin’s passing, I had sat with representatives of the medical board, congressmen, police departments, and written letters to no avail. Finally, people are listening and joining the fight, however slowly. Ventura County has done a fantastic job in responding to parents’ cries for help by continuing with education and awareness on a county level with the Ventura County Rx Abuse & Heroin Workgroup. Creating the multiagency pharmaceutical task force that tracks and follows those that are supplying pills to our streets and our loved ones holds wrongdoers accountable. And I personally will continue to support other parents in this fight by going to Washington, DC to participate in the annual “FedUp! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic.” To end this war, it’s going to take a village. Hell, it’s going to take a whole damn nation.

Susan Klimusko is a registered nurse, parent advocate and Simi Valley mother. She’s worked at several local hospitals and emergency rooms and, after the death of her son Austin, was a founding member of Not One More. She’s currently an active local leader of FedUP! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic.

 Adapted from Ventura County Behavioral Health / www.venturacountyresponds.org 

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