On the winding back roads of rural Maine, parents feel increasingly desperate. “Prescription drugs are an epidemic out here,” says Kim,* Jack’s mother. “Three, four, five kids on the road we live on are struggling with it right now. It’s so scary and so sad, and it happens so fast.”
Kim knew her son had been experimenting, but she never guessed that he was taking a whopping 80 mg of OxyContin every few days. That secret spilled out after Jack stole a check from his stepmother.
Kim pulled her son out of school, sent him to a counselor, and helped him break his drug habit. “Parents need to realize the severity of prescription drug abuse,” she says. “When they see it, they need to jump on it. Because it’s a killer.”
The day after Matty Rix died, his grief-stricken father systematically searched every bookshelf, closet, cabinet, and toolbox in the house they had shared. Behind the wrestling trophies and family photographs were pill bottles. But it was the addresses on the vials that shocked Rix and his best friend, Mark Moriarty, who helped him sift through the pile. “We know these people. They’re our neighbors. They’re the parents of our kids’ classmates,” Moriarty says. “When a kid asks, ‘Can I use your bathroom?’ your antenna should go up.”
Rix decided to hold his son’s funeral at the high school where he had been so beloved. “We’re trying to turn this loss into a lesson,” Moriarty told the large crowd gathered in the gym. “The greater the loss, the greater the lesson that must come from it.”
After a short hiatus, Rix returned to coaching and helping other troubled teens. A year to the day after Matty died, a letter appeared on his grave. It was a call for help. “I miss you and our long talks,” the writer had scrawled. “I’m struggling with Oxy addiction. There are times when I want to kill myself.” Rix called the boy and talked to him for nearly an hour. “You’re not alone,” Rix told him.
For Tammi Lizotte, every day holds a reminder of her daughter. Pictures of the laughing young woman line her walls. “Whit had a wicked sense of humor,” she says. “And she was very comfortable in her skin.”
Lizotte, who has some of her daughter’s ashes in a sand dollar pendant around her neck, has also decided to turn her loss into a call for action. At Whitney’s memorial, Lizotte dispensed with formalities. “Everybody here knows Whitney,” she told the gathering that overflowed a local church. “So I’m just going to tell you about her last day.
“She was doing what all of you do. It was a party gone wrong,” she said. “And it could kill you.”
*Names changed to protect privacy