Beyond the Underside of Heroin Addiction: The Family Left Behind

Heroin is a highly addictive drug, one of the substances that contributes to the overall opioid crisis in the United States. There are approximately 15,000 heroin overdoses in the country annually. In addition to people dying as a result of heroin overdoses, the manner in which this drug oftentimes is used results in the conveyance of disease-carrying pathogens that can cause illness and even death.

Oftentimes, people who use heroin inject it. Not only do they inject it, they share needles with others in the process. The end result with shocking regularity is the spread of serious, and sometimes even fatal, disease.

A Meeting with Broken-Hearted Parents

The parents of the young man who died met me in the lobby of the apartment building where the couple’s son had been living up until the time of  his death. We took a seat around a small table in the lobby and the couple explained to me the situation.

“Our son was in his 30s,” Gene said.

“And he had a girlfriend,” Connie added, with obvious derision.

The couple’s son, had battled drug abuse and then addiction to heroin for many years. He had been sharing his apartment with his girlfriend for about six months.  The parents informed me that they paid the rent for the apartment. “We wanted to make sure that he always had a roof over his head.”

They explained that a couple of days earlier they received a phone call from the police. Officers were at their son’s apartment. The police advised that it appeared their son had overdosed. His girlfriend and their son were both rushed to the local hospital. They were unable to revive their son but the girlfriend was still alive and in intensive care.

The parents explained that there was an issue with blood throughout the apartment. Because their son was a heroin addict, they feared he had been sharing needles with other users, which is a logical assumption. They reached out to me to secure a safe and thorough remediation of the blood that existed in the apartment.

The parents only spent a short amount of time in the apartment following their son’s death. “We just couldn’t stay in the apartment for more than a couple of minutes.” We didn’t want the apartment, state of the apartment, to be a memory of our son that we’d carry with us into the future.”

“We also don’t have the strength to cleanup the apartment on our own. We’re broken hearted as it is… we can’t add any more to our plates.”

Even if the remediation associated with a person’s death is relatively uncomplicated, we recommend that family members not involve themselves directly in the cleanup process. The remnants of a tragic death, or a life filled with challenges, can unnecessarily haunt loved ones into the future.

The Apartment Cleanup

The apartment was cluttered with a good amount of trash. As is often the case with the residences of people struggling with drug addiction, housecleaning is not a priority.

Throughout the house, blood spray could be found on the walls and ceiling. Blood spray was found in the bedroom, bathroom, and even in the hallway. 

I learned that when the man injected heroin, he would splatter the remaining blood in the needle on the walls and ceiling. While cleaning the walls, we also found several needles protruding from them. This added another health hazard to the overall cleanup process. Used needles of this nature have a history of infecting people with dangerous pathogens that include the HIV and hepatitis viruses.

A Letter from Mom

From time to time, when we finish a biohazard cleanup, we receive an email or even a letter from someone we have helped. One of the most touching letters after a job came from the Mom of the deceased. It was delivered to us about a week after we finished cleaning her son’s apartment.

The letter began simply and quite directly:

When you were cleaning our son’s apartment, one thing kept going though my mind. You saw a glimpse of his life at the end. What I kept thinking was I wish you could have seen him when he was a little guy with his puppy.  It seemed so very odd to me that you were tending to the very personal task for us of cleaning up the end of our boy’s life but you didn’t know him. You never had the chance to know him and how I will remember him as the sweet little boy playing with his puppy.

I don’t know how my husband and I can ever really thank you. Your compassion and understanding came at a time when we were angry, confused and heartbroken.  Your efforts eliminated what was painful evidence of how our son’s life ended.

Because of what you did for us, my husband and I avoided having a memory of where our son died forever etched in our minds if not even in our hearts. Because I was spared that vision, I’ve been able to settle on the most perfect memory of my boy – the memory that I will carry with me until the day I get to see him again.

The vivid memory I have of my son playing catch with his puppy on the front lawn of our home. Yes, that scene is from many years ago. But, what I’ve learned through my own grieving process is that when a loved one dies, we are not wed to tying ourselves to memories of death or sadness. Rather, we can strive to focus on any number of points in that person’s life.

In my heart, my son will now always be young. He will always be happy. He will always be that wide eyed, giggling boy with his puppy at his side.