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We lost our son James (Jamie) to a fentanyl overdose a little over a year ago. He was 27. We miss him every day. He was a teacher, a football coach, and a weekend bartender—and in all those jobs he brought his intelligence and his passion, as well as his concern for his students, players, and customers.
Jamie was very inquisitive as a child and had bundles of energy. My wife, Debbie, would often make him run around the exterior of our house several times after elementary school to try and use up some of his energy. He was always a big talker as well, sometimes to the point of talking non-stop for extended periods. He also experienced mood swings. Eventually, we realized that he had mental health challenges, and was later diagnosed with bi-polar disorder.
Often, when someone has mental health issues, drug use will be present as well. Individuals are trying to quiet their minds, and the pain related to its dysfunction. Eventually, there were signs of Jamie’s drug use, and even a positive drug test as well. But he was brilliant and was able to convince us, coupled with our denial, that the test result was incorrect. When we finally realized that Jamie was actually using heroin- just a couple of months before he died- we were desperate to get him into a rehabilitation program. But, he would have had to admit he was using and agree to go, which he never would. While we know that rehabilitation is no panacea, it was our fervent hope for Jamie, but we/he didn’t have enough time to realize it. If only.
Since his death, our family has done a lot of grief counseling and talking to friends and family about Jamie and about substance use disorders. I am now a Shatterproof Ambassador, and we participated in the Washington DC Shatterproof Rise Up Against Addiction 5K Walk/Run last fall, where we had a huge team and a great day. We have also started the James Werner Legacy Project. There is a lot of information about Jamie as well as blog posts by our family members and other information about the opioid crisis. By helping others, we honor Jamie and try to heal.