Write on Jay's Wall
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
my organization, 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, often to work at the
pharmacy where he had a job since high school.
On Sunday, December 14, I remember saying goodbye to him at our front
door. As I often did, I put my hand on his cheek. I loved the
scruffy feel of his stubble – it reminded me my little boy was growing up.
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 the hospital had called
to say Jason was brought to the emergency room and we should get there as
soon as we could. We met near the turnpike and drove to the hospital
together in silence. We couldn’t image what had happened – my
husband had spoken to Jason the day before and said he sounded fine. When
we arrived at the hospital emergency room, the first thing I remember is
being referred to as “the parents,” and being ushered into a private
office. I used to work in hospital administration and I knew what
that usually meant – but I wanted to believe something else. We
asked to see Jason, but were told we had to wait to speak to the doctor.
Again, it was a sign I knew, but could not accept.
relived that day in my mind so many times, and while I really can’t tell
you exactly what the doctor said, 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. I know he believed
he was being safe. Apparently 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, and had a “professional curiosity” about them. We
also learned that he had visited several online pharmacies and ordered
drugs from one Mexican pharmacy online. We found indications 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. I
can think of no other signs until we got that horrible call on December
My son Jason made a difference in the world for 19 years, and I want him
to keep making a difference. By continuing to share his story, I
hope we can help other families avoid the kind of tragedy my family has
suffered. We all need to do everything we can to keep others from
suffering the kind of heartache we have endured.