A son’s Summit County heroin overdose spurs mother to speak out
accidental overdose deaths
Summit County saw seven accidental drug overdose deaths in 2015, compared with just one in 2014. Drug overdose deaths passed vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in both the county and the state.
Feb. 25, 2015: A 52-year-old woman died of accidental hydrocodone overdose. She was taking pain medications after a surgery.
July 30: A 32-year-old man died of accidental heroin overdose.
August 3: A 62-year-old man died overdosed on prescription drugs purchased online, most likely benzodiazepines, a type of psychoactive drug.
Sept. 26: A 21-year-old and 27-year-old man died after consuming injectables laced with fentanyl, a potent narcotic. The drugs are believed to have been purchased online.
Nov. 2: A Summit County man died after smoking fentanyl patches.
Dec. 21: A 29-year-old man died after taking hydrocodone for an injury.
These figures do not include two suicides from prescription drug overdoses.
After less than three years of heroin use, Andrew Mauldin died at the young age of 32. His body was found outside of Summit Medical Center after an overdose, in the early morning hours of July 30, 2015.
“He is forever 32,” his mother, Judy Absalon said. “He had the disease of addiction. His drug of choice was heroin.”
Andy is one of seven who died of accidental drug overdoses last year in Summit County. According to the Summit County Coroner’s Office, of all accidental deaths, drug overdoses were the leading cause, followed by four car accidents and four skier injuries.
“I’m gonna make it my life mission now, so my son’s death was not in vain,” Absalon said. “I want to stop the silence and start the conversation.”
This year’s figures were unusual for Summit County, with just one accidental overdose death in 2014. However, across Colorado, deadly drug use is not uncommon. In 2014, poisoning was the leading cause of accidental death, with drugs and medications contributing to 87 percent of all poisoning deaths statewide.
“It’s definitely out there. It’s intermittent, but we do see it,” Summit County Sheriff John Minor said. “The stuff can kill you. It can end up badly. Especially when you mix it with other drugs, which is not uncommon.”
Just last year, four drug-related fatalities were linked to the consumption of fentanyl — a potent narcotic that is sometimes mixed with other drugs, particularly cocaine and heroin.
In Andy’s case, it was heroin alone.
TRACES OF ADDICTION
Andy moved to a relative’s house at the age of 10, when he started smoking. He had lived in Colorado throughout the duration of his life, attending Columbine High School in Denver. He was a sophomore the day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold entered the school and killed 12 students and one teacher and injured 21 others.
“He self-medicated much of his life,” Absalon said. “Long story short, this progressed.”
While he had gotten into trouble with the law as a juvenile, Andy straightened out around the age of 19, graduating from the Job Corps in Montana where he obtained his GED and diploma. He had college plans, and, later, a girlfriend he hoped to marry.
Moving back to Lakewood, he purchased a small bungalow and put energy into redoing every room. He also worked with computers, a skill he had picked up during his time in the Job Corps.
“He would call me every Sunday. We would have a nice rapport when he wasn’t using,” his mother said.
He sent birthday cards, helped care for his infant sister and sometimes would stop by and work on his mother’s house.
About two-and-a-half years ago, Absalon discovered her son had started using meth. He came over to work on her house, and she asked for help installing a portable air conditioner by cutting a hole in a piece of plywood that could be set inside the windowsill to help expel the hot air. Absalon ran out to purchase groceries and was shocked when she returned.
“I got back, and don’t you know, my white, beautiful window is now black,” she said. “He had screwed screws into it, and nailed the board to it.”
She added that his behavior was strange, and he “talked a mile a minute.”
“In his sober time, it would have been no problem,” she said. “But he couldn’t think it through.”
Shortly after, he lost his job and foreclosed the bungalow he had worked so long to repair. By the time he moved to the mountains, the house was flood damaged after a friend staying at the bungalow had never repaired a leak.
“I was always begging for him to please stop and get help,” Absalon said. “He had a heart of gold — he would do anything for anybody.”
Later on, he told her he was no longer addicted to meth — he had started using heroin. Prior to his death, he had overdosed twice and been revived twice using Narcan, an anti-opioid.
“I said, ‘This is a warning sign — heroin is gonna kill you,’” she recalled. “He had so much potential, but heroin ended up robbing him of it. It literally robs — it’s like the devil.”
Andy overdosed a third, and final time on July 29 of last year. He was arrested in Weld County for possession of drug paraphernalia and transferred to the Park County Jail, where he served the rest of his sentence. The jail confirmed he was discharged on July 20.
Absalon said that Andy had nowhere to live but, before he was discharged, met a fellow inmate who said he could stay with him and his girlfriend in Alma, where they were currently residing in a cabin. After the man was released, the four of them drove down to Denver; Absalon talked to Andy that day on his friend’s cell phone.
She said her son explained that he was staying with a friend in the mountains and were going to look for jobs together.
“He said, ‘Tomorrow, we’re going to get day-labor jobs, and, in the winter, I’m going to get a job on the mountain,’” she said. “He said he wasn’t using. We only talked for about four minutes.”
That was the last time she heard from him.
Based on accounts from police, hospital staff and family accounts, she believes they went to the 16th Street Mall in Denver to obtain heroin and took it there. With four months in jail, Andy’s tolerance for heroin had reverted to zero. He also had traces of pneumonia.
“Heroin is the absolute worst of the opioids. The thing is, it’s cheap,” she added. “When Andy got the dose of heroin that killed him, it probably cost him $10, $20.”
The three friends drove back up to Alma, with Andy already drifting out of consciousness in the backseat. At home, one of them tried to rouse him using cold water. Finally, they drove to the hospital, where he was left at the front door, unconscious, wearing nothing but shorts, with a core temperature of 80 degrees and a “thready pulse.”
“They dropped him off and left; they returned a few hours later to check on him and were told of his death. They left the hospital and were contacted by law enforcement later,” Summit County Coroner Regan Wood said. The Park County Sheriff’s Office said the case is still under investigation.
Wood added that Absalon didn’t find out about the death until the next day due to medical privacy restrictions since no name was left. Absalon noted that the hospital staff performed CPR for more than two hours, trying to resuscitate her son.
“They did four doses of Narcan, shocked him and briefly brought him back,” she said. “They figured if they could warm him up, maybe they could save him.”
She recalls waking in the middle of the night, with a sense that something was wrong, before she learned of the incident. Andy was pronounced dead at 3:20 a.m.
Following her son’s death, Andy’s mom has made it her mission to help inform and support other families dealing with addiction.
“It must start with education — education in our schools. Educating parents that this can and does happen to kids like their kid,” she said.
She knows families that have lost a fiancé, a son, a daughter, each with different stories. A student with dreams of becoming a cardiologist. An injury that spurred addiction.
“We want to have a list of resources for parents who are in crisis mode,” she added. “When you need the resources, you need them right now.”
Under Colorado law, the Department of Public Health may issue standing orders to help pharmacies distribute anti-opioid Narcan (also known as Naloxone), to drug users or their families. Naloxone is available in Summit County but may require a prescription at some pharmacies. The cost of the drug has risen steadily over the last year to about $50 for a vial.
Several local clinics also have resources for recovering addicts, or those who seek to use less often.
“Although we are a relatively small community, we’re fortunate to have the resources we have,” Minor said.
Mind Springs Health has a clinic in Frisco that offers aid on a sliding scale based on ability to pay. A detox center, Summit Safe Haven, is also available through Mind Springs Health.
Cassie Comeau, behavioral health director at the Summit Community Care Clinic, said the clinic offers individual counseling, treatment and medication as needed. The clinic offers care on a sliding scale, but also takes private insurance and Medicaid.
The clinic also offers four school-based health centers, to assist with counseling and intervention and help prevent future substance abuse.
“There’s this piece of development no one talks about around emotional intelligence,” she said. “Developing an intelligence about this can help people make more informed choices.”
She said the clinic sees experimentation with tobacco, marijuana and alcohol as early as 11 and 12, with a significant increase in the early high school ages.
“I think a lot of people end up abusing substances as a form of self-medication,” she added. “In the short-term, it gets rid of anxiety and these issues temporarily. In the long-term, the problems start to mount up in the background.”
Treatment often involves not only dealing with the substance abuse itself, but any concurrent conditions, such as depression. Addiction is difficult to kick, even more so with narcotics, where long-term use can alter an individual’s brain chemistry, making users increasingly more reliant on the drug.
“A lot of these families are going through hell as well,” Minor said. “And there’s help for them.”
The county has resources for families struggling with loved ones who are struggling with substance abuse as well. Both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are available in the community, and Comeau suggested family therapy as an option as well.
Absalon added that since she discovered her son’s addiction, she has discovered a network of resources, through groups online and in-person.
“I don’t want him to be another number,” she added. “It impacts a lot of people. Lots of people who loved (Andy) and wanted him to get well.”
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