Updated: Apr 9
By Evan's mom, Tina
Evan Sean Malley
My son, Evan died on January 3, 2016, of a heroin overdose in a treatment center in California at the young age of 20. Evan loved road trips with friends, Nicki Minaj, fires at the beach, and wanted to get married one day and have two cats. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and would help them whenever they needed it.
I believe Evan’s addiction started when he began using Marijuana around age 15; marijuana was a gateway drug for him. Evan was shy and wanted to fit in some way, and drug use was how he did it.
When I first found out about Evan’s drug use, I panicked and brought him to the doctor, and had the doctor explain what drugs do to the body. I even took him to a counselor a few times to see if I could nip this in the bud - how naive I was about what was to come. We even read aloud all the dangers from marijuana and its long term effects.
I told Evan stories about when I was pregnant with him - I was so incredibly happy and I took the best care of myself; eating fruits and vegetables, taking these big horse-size vitamins and just being extra careful so he would be healthy when he was born. I asked Evan to respect his body and not to “ruin all my hard work,” hoping common sense would take hold, even though my degree in human development told me otherwise. Little did I know Evan was beginning to experiment with all kinds of pills, and other drugs like acid and eventually heroin. Evan once told me he would never ever use a needle and that he knew what he was doing. I know we’ve all heard this before.
As things became worse, Evan stopped doing school work and did just enough so he could graduate. There were no teachers, advisors or counselors that stepped up to find out what was going on. Evan had always been an A/B student, but no one cared to find out why his grades had slipped his senior year. During these months, I tried to get him back into counseling, but he would have nothing to do with it, as he felt socially awkward and only felt “normal” when he was high. I came close to convincing him a few times, but he always backed out. These were incredibly stressful months/years of learning about addiction; seeking a counselor for myself that specialized in addiction to try to be one step ahead of him, and trying to save his life which was only just beginning.
Right after graduation, Evan moved to an area which was known for police activity and drugs. I was horrified. I couldn’t believe my son wanted to live in this area after growing up in a nice neighborhood with a yard and his friends. Evan soon started taking a few courses at the community college, but only took required courses as he was full of anxiety and confusion about what to do with himself. Originally, Evan liked figuring out algebra and calculus problems and was even talking about pharmacy school. Later, Evan wanted to be a part of a college campus and would always ask me, “Mom, you didn’t spend my college money, right?”
The drugs eventually took their toll, and Evan was unable to continue classes and dropped out. At this point, he could not hold a job for more than a few weeks and was in and out of different treatment programs. Our insurance would pay for a few days, but then expected him to be magically healed.
After being arrested a few times for shoplifting, Evan was given a wonderful opportunity by a very caring judge to go to a treatment center in California to help him turn his life around. It seemed like a great program with different phases that would last months, not days. It would end with them helping him learn to live without drugs, and would even help him find jobs and a place to live. The first 2 months were spent in a lockdown facility where he was watched 24/7. It was the first time I could actually take a deep breath because I knew he was safe. After about 75 days of being clean, Evan was transferred to a sober house where he had total freedom and had the opportunity to find a part-time job or to take a few classes.
Evan moved into the new, empty house on a weekend and had no one to greet him or help him settle in. He called me, saying he was full of anxiety and was walking the streets out of boredom; he felt uncomfortable at the house by himself and didn’t know what to do. Supposedly, the usual procedure was to have a meeting with the person being transferred to be sure that they were ‘ready,’ but this didn’t happen. This particular weekend, his counselor had called in sick. I begged Evan to go back to the house and just watch TV and wait for someone to come. I was due to fly out and see him in a few days, and we were both very excited and had fun plans.
I got the dreaded phone call at 4 a.m. on the morning of January 3, 2016. Evan had overdosed in the bathroom. When he was found, he had some rhythms so he was taken to the ED. They spent about 30 minutes trying to revive him, but he was gone. I was already in shock over the move and filled with anxiety as I knew my son was not ready for freedom. I said to myself that I would see him in four days and I would comfort him, and speak with the counselor, but I never got the chance. Evan was out there all by himself, and I couldn’t hold his hand or whisper in his ear that I loved him when he died.
It took me a year to come out of my fog and numbness and for Evan’s death to become my reality. “It wasn’t real,” I thought. “They had the wrong person, or one day I’ll get a phone call and he will ask to come home.” I am still struggling today with my reality and with my daughter’s newfound situation of being an only child without the comfort of her sibling. The world is a different place now and I am a different person.
I’m now the facilitator of a Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) group, RI Chapter, and I try to be a comfort to other broken families. The horror stories I hear are very much like my own and some are much, much worse. My hope is to see a change in my lifetime, but it is happening so slowly and our children are dying in high numbers. It’s like a surreal horror movie in real time and place.
The stigma attached to this disease is very much alive, but my son was a real person with hopes and dreams. He was raised with much love, in a healthy home with a mom that was home every night with a home cooked meal. I miss my son’s smile and voice more than anything in the world. My hopes for a different world are strong. Sometimes I don’t know what to do, but I am “doing” and living for my daughter who is also broken; but we must live life.
Much love and hope to families that are still struggling, and peace to families like mine.