Jason was the kind of person people were drawn to. He made friends easily and had a great sense of humor. He was a caring person and a loving son who respected his family. He was helpful around the house and in the winter he always shoveled our neighbor’s walk. He loved kids, he was active in his youth group and he often volunteered for various community projects--he even worked for the agency I work for, a community-based group in Middlesex County, New Jersey that works to prevent substance abuse.
When Jason was a little boy, he’d lie about little things. When he was seven years old and swore he had taken a shower, even though the tub was completely dry. He got caught in lies like that all the time, but as he grew into a young man we talked about it and he said he realized how silly it all was. I was convinced he had outgrown it. In December of 2003, I realized he had not.
Jason was finishing the first semester of his second year as a pre–pharmacy major at Rutgers University. Since his dorm was only 45 minutes away, he came home frequently on weekends. On Sunday, December 14, I remember saying goodbye to him at our front door. I caressed Jason’s cheek and told him I loved him.
The morning of December 17, 2003, my husband called me at work to tell me that the hospital had called to say Jason was brought to the emergency room. We met nearby and drove to the hospital together in silence. We couldn’t imagine what had happened.
I have relived that day in my mind so many times, and while I really can’t tell you exactly what the doctor said when we arrived at the hospital emergency room, the message was clear--my beautiful son was gone. Apparently, Jason had been abusing prescription drugs and had overdosed.
I thought to myself that this couldn’t be possible. I work in prevention and Jason knew the dangers. We believed that he was not using drugs--we talked about it often. I was so convinced that he was not using, it became a sort of joke between us--as he would leave home at the end of a weekend, I would frequently say, “Jason, don’t do drugs.” “I know, Mom,” he would say, “I won’t.” But he did.
In speaking with dozens of Jason’s friends after his death, we learned his abuse of prescription drugs may have started after he began college, and apparently escalated the summer before he died.
We learned that he used the Internet to research the safety of certain drugs and how they react with others. As a pre-pharmacy major, maybe he felt he knew more about these substances than he actually did. We also learned that he had visited several online pharmacies and ordered drugs from one Mexican pharmacy online. We found records that this pharmacy automatically renewed his order each month.
I think back to the last several months of my son’s life, trying to identify any signs I might have missed. I remember that sometime during his first year at Rutgers, I discovered an unlabeled pill bottle in Jason’s room. I took the pills to my computer and identified them as a generic form of Ritalin. When I confronted Jason, he told me he got them from a friend who’d been prescribed the medication. He wanted to see if they would help him with his problem focusing in school. I took that opportunity to educate him on the dangers of abusing prescription drugs and told him that if he really thought he had A.D.D (Attention Deficit Disorder), we should pursue this with a clinician. He promised he would stop using the drug; he even called the counseling office to make an appointment for an evaluation.
The only other sign I can remember is that one weekend when Jason was home I passed him in the kitchen and noticed that his eyes looked odd--his pupils were as small as pinpoints. I confronted him right there and then, asked him if he was “on something.” He said, “No, what’s wrong?” and went over to a mirror to see what I was talking about. He said that he didn’t know what was wrong--maybe it was because he was tired. I was suspicious, but his behavior was perfectly normal, so I let it go.
My son Jason made a difference in the world for 19 years, and he will keep making a difference now. By continuing to share his story, I hope to help other families avoid the kind of tragedy my family has suffered.