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The Opium Crisis: One of the Victims of America’s Worst Year of Drug Deaths


His life mirrors the lives of many people trapped by addiction – in and out of rehab; prison time; family and friends heartbroken and sad.

Of course to his mother, he was always special. When she wanted to feel close to him again, Karen Butcher wrapped herself in a blanket made of her son’s favorite shirts. And to try and save others from her fate, she trained herself and spoke openly to CNN.

Helping other young addicts is her way of letting Matthew’s death bring hope. “They let Matthew’s legacy be one of helping others not to go down the same path,” she said.

Karen said Matthew was a gift to her from the start – being born seven years after his brother when she had been waiting and yearning for a second child.

He was a sociable, bubbly boy who was always on the move. But he also has health problems, suffering from hemophilia, a condition in which the blood does not clot properly and can cause chronic pain.

So Butcher was used to finding him, wary of trouble, but nothing out of the ordinary.

She and Matthew’s stepfather Gene Butcher say he was as rebellious as any other teenager, but they had no particular reason to worry until he left home after high school and started working. in a restaurant. On good days, he’s the funny bartender, happy to make everyone laugh. Other times, he fell ill, with flu-like symptoms that the Butchers now recognize as signs of withdrawal.

Karen said: “He got into trouble one night because he went through the wallets of working women. “He was caught on camera walking through those wallets, of course looking for money.”

Karen Butcher has found some help in the beloved Parent of Addiction group.

He also took from his family. Karen said: “I have some jewelry missing and I think one of his friends entered my house.

“I would never dream it was him. And then he stole from a friend and then he stole from a girlfriend.”

Matthew’s parents say his addiction may have started with the opiates he was prescribed because of the intense pain that often accompanies hemophilia. They think he may have started crushing and snorting them, and the switch to intravenous use could have easily come for a young man who had injected other drugs for his condition.

Entering rehab for the first time, Karen hopes and believes her son will be the one to beat her addiction.

But he went through what she realized was the general cycle of detox and relapse. He even overdosed several times, saved by those who saw him and emergency responders brought him back to life.

Until Memorial Day 2020.

Karen was going to visit a friend when she saw a missed call from Matthew’s number on her phone. When she called back, it was Matthew’s girlfriend who picked up, hysterical, and they were on their way to the emergency room.

She thinks he chose to take heroin that day, and it was tainted with small amounts of fentanyl, a deadly and potent drug that is the killer in 64,000 of 100,000 deaths. due to a record overdose, although most people didn’t know they took it.

“I just knew in my mother’s womb, my son was dead,” Karen told CNN.

This is the last picture Karen took with her son, Matthew.  She said that she always felt his absence from family gatherings.

She entered the hospital room to see him.

“I guess he died for a while from the cold body,” she said. “I just remember crying, ‘I’m not ready to let you go’ and spending time alone with him, you know, stroking his hair, touching his hand, he looked like he just fell asleep. “

When Matthew was alive, his parents sought out information and provided input on what he was going through and how to help.

Some of the reviews weren’t helpful – those who thought he could stop or detox were a guaranteed escape – but they were also referred to support groups like Parents of addicts are loved.

Karen founded that group’s first chapter in Kentucky and has stuck with it, trying to help others, even after she lost Matthew.

Karen Butcher has a comforter made from Matthew's favorite shirts.

“I don’t want to see this happen to other people. I even have a special place in my heart for someone else’s son,” she said.

“I got a call to me yesterday And he could have gone through 15 treatment programs and he knows I’ve lost Matthew and I talked to him about what you want out of life? What makes you unable to continue treatment?”

She knows how difficult it is to transition from treatment to living a life of recovery, but she tries to find a way for those who reach out to her.

She said she stood back from the loss stats being too big to keep it manageable. “I thought, ‘Who can I help today?'” she said.

She wants to prevent others from suffering a loss she will never get over, how her mixed family of five sons and Gene is always missing one.

“There will always be a hole in the pictures, no longer a picture of all five of our sons, but a picture of four boys,” she said.

“I imagine a hole in that picture or at the family meal. There wasn’t a chair with Matthew.”

CNN’s Miguel Marquez reported this story from Kentucky, and Rachel Clarke wrote in Atlanta.

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