The following blog post is written by a SAFE Project volunteer. Though some sections have been lightly edited, it is otherwise presented in their own words. Please consider sharing your story with us.
By Chris Dwyer
Our son, Landin, collapsed at football practice from back pain when he was only 13 years old. He continued to play sports over the next couple years — football, track, weightlifting — and his back pain was on and off, but eventually became persistent. During that time he saw multiple chiropractors and orthopedic surgeons to determine the issue. It was finally recommended that we take him to a neurosurgeon. It was from them that we learned that the combination of strong legs, flat feet, and a curvature in his spine were causing it to fracture and develop bone spurs. We heard the same thing from two different neurosurgeons: he needed to have a spinal fusion if he wanted to keep playing sports, or else he needed to live a sedentary life. Giving up the sports that he loved was out of the question, so we all opted for the surgery.
After surgery in August of 2017 he spent five days on a morphine pump. Upon release, he spent several weeks taking opioids and benzodiazepines to relieve the pain and stop the muscles from spasming. He tried to ween off of them early, but was told to finish the prescriptions.
Several months later we noticed a marked change in his behavior. He cared less about school (he was formerly an honor student) and he became increasingly disinterested in spending time with the family. He was also sometimes unusually aggressive. We thought he was depressed because he had to sit out sports during his sophomore year, and he likely was. It never crossed our minds that he had become addicted to the opioids and benzodiazepines that had been prescribed to him. He eventually admitted to having an issue and that his aggressive moments were due to withdrawal when he was trying to quit.
The next couple years included many trips to the hospital for overdoses and/or attempts at severe self-harm, including jumping out of a moving car driving 45 MPH. We did everything we could to get him into rehab, but you cannot force it in Illinois. We eventually worked with the police and the state’s attorney to have him charged for possession. He then had a choice: spend up to six months in juvenile detention, or complete a treatment program.
Upon completing his treatment program he went back to high school, finished his senior year, and graduated high school in 2020. We were thrilled. There was a time we weren’t even sure if he would live that long, none the less graduate. He then attended community college for a bit, but decided to go to work as an apprentice mechanic instead. The next year or so was relatively uneventful.
However, in late spring or early summer of 2022, he had a terrible relapse. We have two daughters and made him leave the house, as he was now an adult. By October of 2022 he had hit rock bottom and decided to check himself into a recovery program. He chose a program in Orange County, CA, and we bought him a plane ticket to head out there.
He completed the recovery program and was in sober living while attending daily group recovery sessions. He had a minor relapse in May of 2023 but immediately checked himself into detox and then a recovery program. After completing that, things were seemingly going well. He started working as an apprentice mechanic in Orange County late in 2023, had joined a gym and was working out every day. He was accepted to the University of Arizona’s online psychology degree program set to start on January 9, 2024. His goal was to work his way through college and then become a substance use counselor.
On January 8, 2024, our local police came to the house and notified us that he had been found dead in his car earlier that day due to a suspected accidental overdose. There are no words to describe the agony of hearing that. He was 21 years old. We had just seen him for the first time in 13 months at Thanksgiving and he really seemed to be doing well. We later learned that he had relapsed and was sent to detox by his sober living house, but he apparently either never went or he checked himself in and then left. He was found right around the corner from where he worked and had apparently planned to check himself into detox that evening, according to a conversation he had with a friend. It is suspected that fentanyl is the cause of his death, though we are still awaiting autopsy results.
To say we are broken is an understatement. He was our first-born and our only son. His little sisters, his mother, and I loved him more than life itself and only wanted him to be well. Now all we have are our memories of him which we will carry with us forever. It is all of our hope that we can use his story to help others and get something positive out of what is otherwise our tragedy. We will love you and miss you forever, Landin.