The toxicology report confirmed the cause of death to be a drug overdose but what it doesn’t tell you is that mental health also contributed. It wasn’t just another one of those fentanyl deaths but rather, one that has a powerful story hiding behind it.
As some of you already know if you follow Anxiety Gone Facebook, a distant relative of mine lost his son (who would also be my distance relative) to a drug overdose earlier this year.
Fentanyl Deaths in Canada
As of lately, fentanyl deaths have been on the rise here in Canada. Every time you log onto your social media platform, you see a new article about fentanyl deaths; another soul taken too soon by drugs laced with fentanyl. Unfortunately, a distant family member of mine became part of the statistic earlier this year.
Many of you may have mixed feelings about this. If they’re using drugs, they knew it was a risk. The problem is that fentanyl deaths are often the result of someone using a drug laced with this deadly substance, unbeknownst to the user.
The Underlying Cause of Drug Use
While drugs are bad – period – you also have to think about why someone may be using them. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, the majority of people using illegal drugs are doing so as a means of coping with something they’ve experienced in the past. In fact, “70% of adolescents receiving substance abuse treatment have a history of trauma.” But sometimes the emotional struggle and trauma isn’t known or treated properly. Why? Because of the stigma associated with mental health. As you’re about to find out, that may have been a huge factor linked to the death of my cousin’s fatal overdose.
Father Opens Up About His Son’s Fentanyl Death
Mike Zettler, the father of Chris Zettler, is eager to tell the world his story in hopes of preventing future fentanyl deaths, and it starts long before drug use ever came into play. Here’s his story:
It was Superbowl Sunday, February 5th, 2017. I had plans with my son, Chris, and his girlfriend to come over and watch the game with us. Food and munchies ready, I waiting for the phone call to go and pick them up; the phone call that never came. I tried to contact him a couple times but he didn’t answer.
Then, the police arrived at my door to break the news. At first, I thought they were going to tell me that Chris got into some trouble. Instead, I heard the words no parent should ever have to hear, “Your son has passed away from an accidental drug overdose.”
I said, “No way, not my son,” and demanded they take me to see him right away. When I arrived at his apartment, I found my son, lifeless, laying in his bed. I knelt by his head and yelled “Chris, wake up! It’s Dad! Chris wake up! I love you!” I kissed him on the cheek and continued to say, “I love you, son”. The next time I saw him was in a casket.
That was the worst night of my life. It was unexpected because Chris had drug problems on and off but was doing so good for close to a year. That one choice to use the night of the Superbowl was his last. The drug was mixed with fentanyl and that’s what took his life.
But what caused him to turn to drugs in the first place? At the root of his drug problem, was a root buried so deep no one else could see.
Chris suffered with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and ADHD from childhood on. I think sometimes, as parents, we tend to trust the doctor’s evaluation too easily rather than get second opinions. We were all brought up to trust a doctor’s word, and that’s exactly what we did when these problems came to light.
Chris took many medications for ADHD when he was a child, and looking back I’m not so sure we made all the right decisions for him; I wish we had sought out a second opinion. Mental health, anxiety and depression were also some of Chris’s ailments. Despite seeing doctors and taking medication, I believe each could have been treated differently, and possibly, better had we been more educated on mental health and decided to take a different path.
I’m not sure if the mental health stigma bothered him or not. He never mentioned it to me, and I certainly was never ashamed of Chris. I always told him I love him and only wanted the best for him. Although, his drug abuse could be linked to why he started using drugs in the first place.
Mental health issues are on the rise and we need to have better treatment for our children and anyone who suffers from this. I,myself, take medication for anxiety and depression and I have a better handle on my life other than trying to deal with the grief of losing a child. I am not ashamed of my mental health, as no child or adult should be.
My advice to any parents dealing with fentanyl deaths, drug abuse or mental health is to look for more than one opinion before choosing what is the best course of action. With the various deadly drugs out there in today’s world, parents need to talk to their children more now than ever. Fentanyl deaths are taking lives because dealers are lacing all kinds of street drugs with this killer and not informing the user. Someone’s first use of drugs, regardless of whether it’s marijuana or something more serious, could be their last.
Parents can get tons of information from the Public Health about overdoses and if they know their child is using, I recommend getting a free naloxone kits for overdoses. I’ll also be attending Victoria Park in Kitchener from 12 noon to 2PM for Overdose Awareness Day. There will be an abundance of information for parents about drug use, fentanyl deaths, and more.
The 24/7 Mental Health Line is also an excellent resource, as it can direct parents who are concerned about their loved ones who are struggling with mental health and drug abuse in the right direction.
As for me, I attend a group called GRASP – Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. It’s a group in Kitchener which has been very helpful in the grieving process, as most have experienced what I have. Today, I’m living one day to the next; trying to live my “new normal”, whatever that may be.
My son, Christopher, was a funny, loving guy and his smile lit up the room. He was a handsome 26-year-old who’s life was taken too soon. I just want people to be aware that this can happen to anyone. It happened to me.
If you know someone who is using and at risk of taking fentanyl or who is currently struggling with the death of a child due to an overdose, please share this post with them. Together, we can build one another up and change this world for the better, so others don’t have to suffer the same way our children have.
To Mike: Thank you for being so incredibly open and honest about what happened to you and your family. Your strength is admirable and your son’s life will live on in the hearts of those individuals you save with your story.