Dustin Manning, 19, and Joseph Abraham, 18, used to play on the same Little League team. Over the years they drifted apart. Yet this year they were found dead on the same day.
Their hometown of the Lawrenceville, Atlanta, suburb was shaken by the news of the two young men dying of opioid overdoses.
“This happened within 18 houses of each other to two young men on the same morning. The community was in total shock,” said Kathi Abraham, Joseph’s mother, according to CNN.
Manning was found with a mix of heroin and fentanyl in his body. Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid, 50-100 more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl and its analogs were involved in over 20,000 overdose deaths in 2016, almost a third of the more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths last year.
Fentanyl is used as an anesthetic. But it is often shipped shipped illegally from China, sometimes through Mexico, and drug dealers are using it to spike heroin. Fentanyl-related deaths increased almost sevenfold since 2013, making it now the biggest killer drug and a major contributor to the opioid epidemic in the country.
The parents of Manning and Abraham thought their sons may have purchased the drug from the same dealer.
“These drugs are killing people and there’s a lot of drug dealers around,” Kathi Abraham said.
“To me it’s poison or murder—anyone who sells fentanyl should have a life sentence,” her husband Dave said.
Both young men started with drugs early. Manning at 12, Abraham around 14.
Abraham was first exposed to opioids through painkiller prescriptions after he had wisdom teeth removed. He then received another prescription after an ankle injury, and another after a hand injury. His parents thought he turned to drugs after two of his friends died.
“He lost two of his really good friends in eighth grade—one to cancer and one to a drowning. He really had a hard time. He struggled with that,” his mother said.
Manning started drinking beer and taking drugs soon after he told his parents he felt like he was suffering from depression.
“He told us the drugs are what gave him ‘the out’ and made him feel good,” said his mother Lisa.
Both sets of parents sought treatment for the boys multiple times, but it wasn’t enough.
“Once they take (opioids), there’s a switch in their brain that gets flipped on—and to get that switched flipped back could take up to five years, and most treatments are 35 days and they’re back out,” said Dave Abraham.
President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency. The designation will free up funding and give agencies authority to shift federal resources to combat the crisis.
Studies have shown mutual recovery support groups, like Narcotics Anonymous (NA), are just as effective as professional therapy. But they are often overlooked when searching for solutions.
“The potential reduction of social costs related to opioid addiction is substantial, given NA’s contribution to long-term recovery outcomes, its geographical availability, and its 24-hour accessibility at no cost to the government or private insurers,” wrote a group of veteran addiction researchers in an article published last year in the journal Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly.
There are over 27,000 NA groups holding meetings across the United States, free of charge and open to anybody with a “desire to stop using.”