COLUMBUS - An Ohio mother whose adult son died of a drug overdose this year said her son knew the risks posed by painkiller-laced heroin flooding the state. Sean O'Connor had lost a number of friends to heroin-related fentanyl overdoses, said his mother, Cindy King-Anderson. O'Connor, 31, was found dead at the bottom of a staircase in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood on May 5 with heroin and fentanyl in his system.
"He used to tell me, 'They're putting stuff in the heroin, they're going to kill people because you don't know. You really don't know until you inject it, and you can tell it's different,'" said King-Anderson, 52, of Columbiana in eastern Ohio.
The increased illicit use of fentanyl - a narcotic 30 to 50 times more powerful the heroin that is typically prescribed to people in chronic pain, including end-stage cancer patients - prompted the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to issue a nationwide alert in March.
In Ohio, health authorities said a spike in fentanyl-laced heroin contributed to yet another record year of deadly overdoses in 2014, when fentanyl-related deaths exploded to 502 from 84 the year before. In all, the state said 2,482 people died from accidental overdoses in 2014, an 18 percent increase over the previous year.
Elsewhere, New Jersey saw a huge spike in fentanyl deaths in 2014, reporting as many as 80 in the first six months of the fiscal year, according to the DEA. And in a 15-month period, about 200 deaths were reported in Pennsylvania related to fentanyl, the DEA said.
Ohio health and safety officials cite some progress, including a decrease in the number of painkillers prescribed in the state and lower numbers of people "doctor shopping" for drugs including painkillers.
"We are seeing some positive signs, but this isn't something that has an endpoint, just like traffic fatalities don't have an endpoint," said state Public Safety Director John Born. "You try to drive that number down each day, go each day without a loss of life."
O'Connor's struggles began at 18 when, with marijuana in his system, he was the driver in a single-car accident in West Virginia that killed his best friend, his mother said. He was convicted and sentenced to six months to two years in a state corrections facility specializing in rehabilitating young offenders. He relapsed after his release and was imprisoned again from 2005 to 2010.
Once he got out, he joined his family in Ohio and struggled with his sobriety. He went through stretches of being clean and using, his mother said. He had three sons, including a 4-year-old boy his parents have raised from birth, said King-Anderson, an administrative assistant at a foundry.
O'Connor was a kind man with a charismatic smile who taught himself to play guitar and was artistic before his addictions took over his life, his mother said. Her son was open about his drug use and the family encouraged him to talk in the hopes it would help his recovery, O'Connor said.
She hopes with her advocacy to warn people of the dangers of addictions and to help families understand that, once hooked, addicts are no longer making a choice but are suffering from a disease.
"You look at an addict, and you can't just tell them to stop," she said. "It's like looking at somebody and saying, 'Stop having cancer.'"
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - AP/Oct. 4, 2015
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