Courtesy of Gary FuszCoping with unexpected deaths due to heroin has become a reality for more and more families across America. The CDC estimates heroin-related deaths have quadrupled since 2010, and an increasing number of parents are coming out to answer that question and openly address the loss of their beloved children to the drug. The latest brave parent to do so is Gary Fusz, a Chicago-area dad whose essay about his daughter Lex's descent into addiction has gone viral.
His story starts out achingly familiar for parents: Fusz shares what it was like to be a new dad, to secure his baby girl in her car seat for that first ride home from the hospital, his brain already fast-forwarding through the milestones to come.
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He sounds like every proud dad of a new baby girl.
Because he was.
He shares his pride watching her ride horses and play soccer. He shares how he told her to have fun, how her smile lit up a room.
He sounds like every proud dad of an elementary school girl.
Because he was.
Then the teenage years hit, and he was her sounding board when she struggled with her mom as teenage girls often do.
He sound like every proud dad of a teenage girl.
Because he was.
Then this proud dad, this caring dad had to watch what so many American families have watched from afar: Addiction set in.
"Lex's life changed forever at age 21 with the wrong boyfriend and group of friends, and she made the wrong choice and tried heroin," Fusz wrote in his essay. "I knew nothing about heroin at the time but can say now in all certainty it destroys families, friendships, and takes everything in its path in a downward spiral like a tornado."
There's a pervasive myth about addiction, that it happens to "bad" kids, that it happens to kids who are down on their luck, kids from hardscrabble homes, kids who were never taught any better, kids who never had a chance.
It does happen to those kids.
But then, it happens to kids with supportive parents too, kids who had every opportunity and every chance to succeed.
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According to the CDC statistics, the biggest leaps in heroin usage have happened in demographics society would least expect: among women, the privately insured, and people with higher incomes. The rates have more than doubled in the past decade for people in the 18 to 25 age range in particular ... people like Lex Fusz.
It may be easier to think of heroin addiction as something that happens to people who don't have a chance, to kids whose parents were never there for them, because it wraps our own kids and loved ones in a shroud of protection. We love our kids. We're there for our kids. It can't happen to them, right?
"I thought about my daughter every day," Gary Fusz wrote, "and every night when I put the phone on my nightstand I was in fear of receiving that call that no parent ever wants to receive."
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Read the comments section on any news report of a fatal overdose, and it's clear those who overdose are often seen as throwaway members of society. But there's no such thing as a throwaway person. People are people, even when they're in the throes of addiction. They may be people down on their luck, people who were sucked into the disease of addiction, but people all the same. And nine times out of 10, they're people who leave behind other people who loved them dearly and would do anything to have them back.