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Mother recalls her son's fatal addiction to opiates

Says more rehab, other resources needed to fight epidemic

by Briana Barker | Reporter Published: August 3, 2016 12:00 AM
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Northfield Village -- "He was a fun-loving, shy, happy kid."

That's how Northfield Village resident Jeanne Ralston-Astalos describes her 18-year-old son Marcus Ralston, who died July 20 of a suspected opioid overdose.

Marcus attended Nordonia Hills Schools until the eighth grade, when Jeanne said busing stopped and because she was fighting cancer at the time, Marcus went through high school online through the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, better known as ECOT. She said he just graduated in June.

Jeanne was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2011, the same year her father died, as well as Marcus' own father, who she said died of alcoholism and drug addiction.

"I didn't survive all that just to deal with this," she said of her son's death.

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Jeanne said her son began smoking marijuana, which led to him taking pills. He received money last year from his father's estate when he turned 18, despite Jeanne's objections. She said that was when the addiction took over.

"When he got that money in September, he burned through it like it was air -- thousands (of dollars)," she said.

Jeanne said she began noticing changes in her son's attitude. He often had glassy eyes and was off by himself for more and more time.

"As a parent, you kind of know when something changes," Jeanne said. "Then you look for the glassy red eyes and pupil size."

Marcus overdosed on heroin for the first time in October 2015.

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Jeanne was out of town visiting her sister when she got a phone call that he was in the hospital. She said Marcus had been at home and EMS was called by a friend to take him to Bedford Hospital.

After the first overdose, the family tried to talk with Marcus, which resulted in a lot of arguments and "carrying on," Jeanne said.

His second overdose was in May. Jeanne said she "threw him out" and told him he needed to get help. She got Marcus into an alcohol and drug treatment center, where he spent three weeks.

One of the biggest challenges Jeanne said she faced was getting Marcus into rehab, once he agreed to go.

She said rehab centers are all constantly full and would tell her to call back "next week."

"As a parent, where do you put them? Where do you go for help?" she asked. "There needs to be more information out there ... if we are having an epidemic and there are not enough rehabs and the odds of even that helping are slim to none. Rehab is like a bad joke, finding one and finding one that works and helps."

Jeanne said that after Marcus' second overdose, hospital staff told her there was nothing more they could do.

"To me, when you OD and are in the hospital, you should be forced to go somewhere for treatment," she said. "They pretty much sober you up and toss you out."

She had a list of rehab facilities from her insurance company but couldn't find anyone to direct her to resources for families.

"Ultimately, I know they have to really want the help, and Marcus talked a good line when he was in rehab," she said.

At the end of June -- on the night of his release from rehab -- he overdosed a third time. She said he had gone out with friends despite her objections and advice to change his friends.

Jeanne said she told him he could no longer live in her house, and his grandmother took him in.

"After OD number three I said 'I'm not coming, you are on your own, you are on the streets, whatever, you aren't going to take us all down,'" she said. "They tell you tough love, and it's very hard to do. My head would tell me that it's right, but that mom heart kicks in and it was hard."

Because he'd been saved three times with Narcan, she believes he took the view of, "Well, they will bring me back."

His fourth and fatal overdose was July 20. According to the police report, Marcus was found unresponsive around 2 p.m. at his grandmother's Macedonia home. He had last been seen alive around 7:20 a.m. following a bonfire with friends the night before. Police found a rolled up dollar bill with residue that was sent for testing.

Jeanne said she knew Marcus knew two other Nordonia Hills teens who died of overdoses last month. Jeanne said she had told him he would be next and she thought it sunk in, but added he thought he was invincible.

Jeanne said at a memorial for Marcus, she looked at the friends who attended and advised them to avoid taking drugs and to get help if they need it. Jeanne said she hopes kids will start naming names to get the dealers shut down.

She said parents also need to wake up.

"We need to stop, whatever it takes, our young people from dying," Jeanne said. "Every parent thinks 'Not me; not mine.' Guess what? Never say never. Parents, wake up, keep watching, keep trying. I know some parents don't have a clue. I had a clue, just not enough resources."

Briana Barker: 330-541-9432




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