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Fatal Drug Overdoses, Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare [SERIES]

This is the fourth in a week-long, five-part series about the abuse of heroin and other opiates among New Jersey’s youth. Stacy Proebstle talks to recovering addicts, parents, prevention specialists, substance-abuse professionals and law enforcement officers to address current trends and issues along with possible solutions.  Read the full series here.

In New Jersey, overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death. Almost 6,000 people have died from drug overdoses in the state since 2004.

Stacy Proebstle, Townsquare Media

More than 700 people died from drug overdoses in 2009 alone. Opiods were involved in more than 75 percent of the deaths.

For Abby Boxman, July 13th, 2011, is a day she will never forget. Police knocked on the front door of her home with news that 21 year-old son Justin had died of a drug overdose.

“These pills are killing everybody” she said.

Her son was on the Colts Neck football team and started using prescription drugs then progressed onto heroin a year later.

“He was doing blues, he was doing oxycontin, he was doing heroin, and we didn’t know it was as bad as it was.”

She said her son left college and was in and out of rehab, but she always thought he would overcome his addiction.

“If Justin didn’t start taking those pills and abusing them and getting addicted the way that he did, and to turn to heroin, I know that he would still be here.”

Nearly a year after he passed away, Boxman started a Monmouth County chapter of the group GRASP (Grief Recovery After A Substance Abuse Passing).

“It’s really helping me cope with the loss, to share my stories with others who have had such similar experiences. We are a new group and I hope that people who have suffered a substance abuse loss who need to talk will reach out to us.”

Boxman said she shares her story because she hopes to spare other mothers from the pain she feels.

“This is our community, this is happening all over our state and we have to save our kids.”

Josie Dafeldecker of Manchester says her son John’s drug abuse started early.

“He was young and he started with alcohol, smoking marijuana, then moved onto roxies and eventually heroin.”

She said he finally admitted to her that was doing drugs and checked himself into a rehab facility in south Jersey.

“He was doing really well and he came home and I thought was doing better, but he always went back, he couldn’t overcome that addiction.”

One day, John took a deadly combination of xanax and heroin.

“I found him on the floor in a motel, he had been dead twenty four hours at least” she said. “He’s in a better place now, though, he struggled for so long, it was a terrible thing to watch and not have any control over.”

Diane Conforti, also a member of GRASP, shared her story.

The Rumson woman said her son Michael had a long struggle with prescription drugs and heroin addiction.

“I watched my son lose everything, he lost friends, he lost jobs, he was hospitalized, he was involved in the legal system, I watched him suffer tremendously.”

Conforti said she was an involved parent, letting him confide in her and driving him to rehab and treatment.

“I think he was scared and realized he might not make it” she said.

After years of struggle, at age 26, Michael overdosed, three days after Thanksgiving.

“I know his death was unintentional and accidental, he was in a good place, he wrote down all these plans of things that we needed to do the next day, he didn’t want this to happen.”

“Its just every parents’ worst nightmare, that you can’t save your child.”

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