Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Families Speak Out About Drug Overdose Deaths, Call it an Epidemic

Ruth Harris lost her 28-year-old son to an accidental drug overdose in 2009.
She still has trouble talking about it, but it's even more difficult running into people who she says don't understand the death of her son, Russell Seyfer.

"People start using for all kinds of reasons," Harris said. "You don't see that fine line when you cross it."

Seyfer died when he accidentally took a lethal combination of alcohol, the prescription anti-anxiety drug Xanax and the muscle relaxer Flexeril.

Prescription drugs are largely blamed for the increase in drug-overdose deaths across the U.S.

In Colorado, there were 295 prescription drug-overdose deaths in 2012, down slightly from the year before, but more than triple the 87 reported in 2000.

Total drug-overdose deaths in Colorado, including those attributed to illicit drugs, more than doubled to 807 in 2012 from 351 in 2000. Some of those deaths are classified as suicide. For comparison, 457 people died in Colorado car accidents in 2012, down from 714 in 2000.

Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a proclamation marking Saturday as Drug Overdose Awareness Day to raise awareness of the "overdose epidemic" — as the proclamation states — to challenge the stigma and to allow people to "publicly mourn for their loved ones."

"People do look down, not just on the user, but on the family," Harris said. "It is my life mission now to change the stigma."

On Friday, she and others gathered at the Capitol to celebrate the proclamation and to hold a moment of silence for their loved ones. Among them, a mother wearing a pin with the picture of her 3-year-old boy, Jordan Alarid, who died in 2006 after accidentally ingesting his grandmother's medication.

And Helen Alvillar, whose son Leo Espinosa died in 2008.

Espinosa had completed rehab and was sober when his life started falling apart. He tried to use the same amount of heroin he once had been used to and instead passed away.

"It was hard for me to tell people because I could see the look on their face," Alvillar said. "They thought he deserved it because he did it to himself."

Since his death, Alvillar has been active speaking in the legislature and in organizations trying to educate people about drug addictions.

"It's a sickness and it's such a huge epidemic right now," Alvillar said. "I didn't want people to think ill of my son. People just don't know."