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Indiana mom-of-four lost two sons to opioids in one night

 

It was a seemingly normal day for Indiana mother-of-four Rebecca Savage. 

That Sunday morning, on June 14, 2015, she got up and started doing household chores.

Her two eldest sons – Jack, who had just turned 18 and graduated from Penn High School, and Nick, 19 – had been at graduation parties with their friends the night before. 

Rebecca went into Jack’s room and told him: ‘Time to get up.’

‘He didn’t respond,’ she remembered. Rebecca, a nurse instructor, started performing CPR and called 911. Rescuers arrived and started trying to save him.

‘I remember one of them heading down to the basement,’ she said.

She did not yet know that friends of Nick, who had stayed overnight in the basement, had also called 911 because he too was unresponsive.

Rebecca lost two of her four sons that day. It transpired both Jack and Nick had tried oxycodone at a party the night before and both of them overdosed.

The boys were two of the 772 teenagers aged 15 to 19 in the US who died of drug overdoses in 2015.

CDC data that came out on Tuesday revealed that this was the first year since 2007 that the teen drug overdose death rate spiked as the nation struggles to control a burgeoning epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses.

Rebecca Savage (right) lost two of her children Jack (left) and Nick (right) to opioid overdoses in one night

Rebecca Savage (right) lost two of her children Jack (left) and Nick (right) to opioid overdoses in one night

Rebecca Savage (right) lost two of her children Jack (left) and Nick (right) to opioid overdoses in one night

Jack was adventurous, charming and friendly. He had played hockey since he was three years old and he enjoyed doing water sports at the family’s lake home.

He was headed to Indiana’s Ball State University for his freshman year in the fall. 

Rebecca said Jack ‘never met anybody he didn’t like’ and ‘always had a crooked smile on his face’. He enjoyed sitting by a bonfire at night with his friends.

Nick was more quiet and reserved. ‘Once you got to know him, he was just really calm,’ Rebecca said.

He had just finished his freshman year at Indiana State University, where he was studying microbiology and chemistry.

He, too, enjoyed hockey and his hobbies were similar to his brother Jack’s because the two were so close.

‘They were both popular kids,’ Rebecca said.

Justin, Nick, Matthew and Jack (left to right) pose with their parents, Mike and Rebecca on the beach. Justin and Matthew were 16 and 11, respectively, when their two older brothers died

Justin, Nick, Matthew and Jack (left to right) pose with their parents, Mike and Rebecca on the beach. Justin and Matthew were 16 and 11, respectively, when their two older brothers died

Justin, Nick, Matthew and Jack (left to right) pose with their parents, Mike and Rebecca on the beach. Justin and Matthew were 16 and 11, respectively, when their two older brothers died

Even though friends and family members supported her family during the next few weeks and months, she was numb. ‘They were a blur,’ she said.

‘You really are still in shock – a constant state of shock and denial.’

Rebecca said that now, over two years later, she still has days like this.

After Jack and Nick’s death she became more protective of her two younger kids, Justin, then 16, and Matthew, then 11.

‘You’re just trying to protect your family unit,’ she said.

Until that day, Rebecca did not know anyone affected by the opioid epidemic. She did not know anyone in her community who had died of an overdose.

But overdoses – those involving opioids, specifically – have ravaged her state.

In 2013 alone – two years before Jack and Nick’s deaths – 1,049 Indiana residents died of drug overdoses and 16 percent of those were opioid related.

In 2015, the rate of teens between ages 15 and 19 who died of drug overdoses increased to 2.4 people out of every 100,000 – up from 2.0 in the year before.

CDC data that came out yesterday reveals that 2015 was the first year that the drug overdose death rate for teenagers between 15 and 19 years old increased

CDC data that came out yesterday reveals that 2015 was the first year that the drug overdose death rate for teenagers between 15 and 19 years old increased

CDC data that came out yesterday reveals that 2015 was the first year that the drug overdose death rate for teenagers between 15 and 19 years old increased

She had always told her children not to try alcohol or drugs.

‘It never crossed our mind that they would even consider taking a prescription drug.’

But in the two years since their deaths she has learned more and more about the epidemic that took their lives.

Rebecca emphasized that the epidemic affects a wide range of people and communities.

‘This can happen to anybody. There is no stereotype for people touched by this epidemic.

‘There are dangers that are out there whether or not we want to believe it,’ Rebecca said.

She now spends her time trying to educate people about the problem. With that goal in mind, she founded the 525 Foundation about a year ago.

The 525 Foundation - which Rebecca founded to try to educate people about the opioid epidemic's effects - posted this photo of Nick and his mother the day before Nick would have been 21 in November 2016

The 525 Foundation - which Rebecca founded to try to educate people about the opioid epidemic's effects - posted this photo of Nick and his mother the day before Nick would have been 21 in November 2016

The 525 Foundation – which Rebecca founded to try to educate people about the opioid epidemic’s effects – posted this photo of Nick and his mother the day before Nick would have been 21 in November 2016

THE ENORMITY OF AMERICA’S OPIOID CRISIS 

In 2015 – the year that Jack and Nick died – the drug overdose death rate for teens aged 15 to 19 went up for the first time since 2007

The rate doubled between 1999 and 2007 but had been decreasing since then, until the 2015 spike

Last week President Trump said America’s opioid crisis is now a ‘national emergency’

More than a fifth of the female overdose deaths for this age bracket in 2015 were suicides

About half a million Americans died from drug overdoses between 2000 and 2014

The drug overdose death rate for males from 1999 to 2007 was consistently higher than that for females

The name of the foundation comes from Nick and Jack’s hockey numbers – 5 and 25. 

‘Nick and Jack’s story is one you have likely heard before and will likely hear again and that is why we have created the 525 Foundation,’ foundation’s Facebook page said.

Through the foundation, she speaks at local high schools and colleges, telling people her story in the hopes that it will prevent people from going through what she’s had to go through.

‘Sometimes you hear that one story that sits with you,’ she said, adding that the kids and parents she talks to are receptive.

She encourages parents to start a conversation about the dangers of drugs and alcohol with their teenagers.

She tells them to expose their kids to what is out there so they know about drugs and substance abuse before they are out at a party and see it firsthand.

Rebecca said that parents are always telling their children what they cannot do, such as trying drugs and alcohol.

‘We need to start a conversation about things they can do,’ she said.

Specifically, she was referring to kids’ abilities to help save lives at a party where drugs are being circulated.

She said parents need to tell teenagers that ‘it’s okay to call and get help’.

She thinks that had Nick’s friends called for help sooner, things might have turned out differently.

Jack (left) had just graduated from high school and Nick (right) had finished his freshman year at Indiana State University where he was studying microbiology and chemistry when the brothers overdosed on oxycodone in 2015

Jack (left) had just graduated from high school and Nick (right) had finished his freshman year at Indiana State University where he was studying microbiology and chemistry when the brothers overdosed on oxycodone in 2015

Jack (left) had just graduated from high school and Nick (right) had finished his freshman year at Indiana State University where he was studying microbiology and chemistry when the brothers overdosed on oxycodone in 2015

She said the questions that kids at her speeches ask her are telling.

‘A lot of the kids, their questions are about what to do, which tells me they’ve been there,’ she said, talking about the situation Nick’s friends were in when they were faced with the question of whether or not to call for help when their friend was in trouble.

She stressed that kids need to know that it’s fine to call for help and that they should not leave a friend behind.

‘It’s part of being a good friend. You don’t want the weight of that on you,’ she said.

During her speeches at schools, students also ask her about whether or not all prescription medicines are dangerous.

She explains that if a doctor has prescribed the pills to them, they are not dangerous, but if they belong to someone else, they could be fatal to people who were never supposed to take them. 

Mike and Rebecca Savage pose with their two living sons, Matthew, now 13, and Justin, 18

Mike and Rebecca Savage pose with their two living sons, Matthew, now 13, and Justin, 18

Mike and Rebecca Savage pose with their two living sons, Matthew, now 13, and Justin, 18

She also tells parents to safely dispose of all extra pills that might be stashed in their home that their kids might want to try.

She recently organized a pill drop for this reason and said many communities have such places at hospitals or other, similar establishments.

There is one in her community at a police station and when people go to drop off unused pills there, no questions – about the origin of the pills or what they are – are asked.

Her urgent message to parents who have extra pills is: ‘Get them out of the house.’ 

She urges parents to be open-minded and non-judgmental when they talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol and tells them to start talking sooner rather than later.

She said the enormity of the problem is overwhelming and everyone needs to pitch in to improve it. 

‘It takes a village. The problem is ginormous,’ she said about the opioid epidemic.

But if everyone in a community does their part – if parents dispose of extra pills, if kids call for help when a friend is in trouble and if people say no when they are offered opioids – she thinks it can get better, she said.

‘We’re just average people who have good kids. This is just something they were exposed to and a choice they made. They paid the ultimate price.’

 

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