Opioid crisis: Childhood friends die on same day, half a mile apart

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Twenty seconds is all it took to kill 19-year-old Dustin Manning.

His devastated parents, Greg and Lisa Manning, said the toxicology report found he had taken a toxic mix of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid so powerful it’s often fatal.

“The amount of fentanyl in his body was the equivalent to three grains of salt. That’s all it took to kill a 180-pound guy,” Greg said.

Dustin died on Friday, May 26 in Lawrenceville, a suburb on the outskirts of Atlanta.

At 6:09 a.m., paramedics were called to a home with reports of an unresponsive teenager. Dustin was dead.

“I had told him I’d get him up early for work, and I came up around 5:45 to wake him up and, when I opened the door, he looked like he was tying his shoes. Very quickly, I realized, grabbed him and he was cold,” Greg said.

Lisa was at the gym when she got the call from her husband.

“He said, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, call 911.’ I didn’t ask any questions. I knew,” she said.

Less than an hour later, at 6:53 a.m., another phone call was placed to 911.

Half a mile down the road, 18-year-old Joseph Abraham was found slumped on the floor by his parents, Dave and Kathi Abraham. He had no pulse.

“I started yelling and yelling and yelling, ‘Joe, Joe – wake up, man!’ And, then I realized there was something really wrong,” Dave said.

“As soon as I saw him, I knew and I just ran and I just started holding him and I could tell he was cold,” Kathi said.

“Dave was on the phone to 911 and I said ‘It’s too late. We can’t fix this,'” she said, as tears welled in her eyes.

Childhood friends

Dustin and Joseph were childhood friends. They played on the same Little League team. For two years, Joseph’s father coached them.

But, in middle school, both began to dabble in drugs.

The Abrahams believe their son had his first dose of opioids when he had his wisdom teeth removed. He was prescribed the drugs again when he broke his ankle – and, later, his hand – playing sports.

“When you’re given a prescription from a doctor, we often just trust that,” Kathi said.

She believes Joseph turned to drugs after dealing with two major tragedies at a young age.

“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,” she said.

At the age of 12, Dustin told his parents he felt like he was suffering depression. He soon started drinking beer and taking drugs.

“He told us the drugs are what gave him ‘the out’ and made him feel good,” Lisa said.

Both parents sought help from treatment centers, not once, but time and time again. Lisa even began working at one of the centers to keep an eye on her son and better understand addiction.

But, Dave said the treatments weren’t enough to fight his son’s battle.

“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,” he said.

According to both sets of parents, Dustin and Joe hadn’t been in touch in recent years, yet it appears they may have bought the drug that killed them from the same dealer. According to police records, some of the pill wrappings were almost identical.

There were fears in the community other kids may have bought the same drugs.

Lost potential

As the parents started to gain insight into the world of opioid addiction, they realized getting the drug is fast and easy.

Like most parents, they had high hopes for their beloved sons and their great potential.

Walking through her son’s bedroom, Lisa pointed at a US flag on the wall.

“This flag was a symbolic thing for him. He always wanted to go in the service. He always wanted to be a Marine. He would have made a great Marine,” she said, breathing a deep sigh.

“Joe was a sensitive young man, he was funny, he had a big heart,” Kathi said. “He loved to fish, he loved to be outside and hike. He could have done anything he wanted. He was very smart, in advanced classes.”

Dave added: “He could watch a video on YouTube and go and play it on the piano… Most dads teach their kids how to fish. Joe taught me how to fish.”

Community in shock

Hopes for their children’s futures were dashed in an instant.

“This happened within 18 houses of each other to two young men on the same morning. The community was in total shock,” Kathi said.

The parents now attend a support group for people who have lost children to opioids. And, in a sign of the times, the support group grows in size each month.

Last year, about 64,000 Americans died from opioids, according to the first government account of nationwide drug deaths. That is more than the number of Americans killed in car accidents or by guns, combined.

Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine, was devised to treat chronic pain. A tiny amount can be fatal.

The number of people killed by fentanyl has risen from 3,000 to more than 20,000 in just three years – a 540 percent increase.

President Trump has declared opioid addiction a public health emergency, which officials said will allow the federal government to waive some regulations and give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds. It does not provide any additional funding to deal with the crisis.

Like many critics, the Manning and Abraham families said it doesn’t go far enough.

“This is a just a step, a small step,” Greg said.

“The problem with treatment right now is there is a very low percentage of success. The longer they stay in treatment, that success rate goes up,” Dave said.

They also want tougher punishment for dealers.

“These drugs are killing people and there’s a lot of drug dealers around,” Kathi said.

“To me it’s poison or murder – anyone who sells fentanyl should have a life sentence,” her husband added.

The parents believe prevention is key and education needs to start as early as fifth grade.

They have started spreading awareness in their community in the hope it will save another family from suffering the loss of a child.

As they tried to hold back tears, Lisa and Kathi conceded their lives are forever changed.

“You change. You’re never going be the same. I’ll never be the person I was. It’s like a knife deep in your heart,” Lisa said.

“We wanted to have two children because we wanted them to have each other,” Kathi said, as she cried. “Now (our son) Matthew is an only child.”

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