Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives
Statement of Misty Fetco
Committee on House Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources
July 26, 2006
Good morning Chairman Souder, Congressman Cummings and Members of the Committee. My name is Misty Fetko and I am a registered nurse who works in a very busy Emergency Room in Central Ohio, but, more importantly, I am a mother of two wonderful boys.
I am here today to tell you the story of my oldest son, Carl.
Carl was my beautiful little boy; eyes like large, dark chocolates, an infectious smile, and an insatiable curiosity. I spent years protecting him from harm, but two and a half years ago, harm found a way to sneak in and steal the life of this gifted young man.
It was the morning of July 16, 2003. Carl had just graduated from high school and was getting ready to leave for Memphis College of Art in two days. The college had courted him, after he won an award for artwork he created his junior year of high school.
The night before, Carl and I had sat in his room and talked with each other about his day at work and the pending trip to Memphis. He smiled and hugged me goodnight. He said, “Goodnight Mom. Love you.”
The next morning, I decided to walk the dog before waking Carl. While walking next to his car, I noticed an empty bottle of cough medicine in Carl’s backseat. Instantly, I knew something was wrong. I had been vigilant for signs of drug abuse in the past and hadn’t seen many. I rushed to his bedroom door only to find it locked. After finding my way in, I discovered Carl lying peacefully in bed, motionless with legs crossed. He wasn’t responding to my screams, and he wasn’t breathing.
I quickly transformed from mother to nurse and I began CPR, desperately trying to breathe life back into my son. I could not believe my worst fear had happened. My son was dead, but I still did not know what had caused this nightmare.
We are a very close family. I was a very involved mother. Carl had always assured me that he wasn’t using alcohol or drugs. I, the ever watchful mother, believed him, as there wasn’t really any evidence to prove differently.
During Carl’s junior year of high school, I found the first evidence of marijuana in his room. After all the talks and all the reassurances between us; what had changed? I intervened, and didn’t see anything else suspicious until that summer when I found two empty bottles of cough medicine syrup in our basement after a sleepover with friends. I was determined to keep drugs out of our house, but cough medicine? I went to search for answers on the internet, but found nothing and confronted my son instead. Carl explained that he and his friends had experimented, but that nothing happened. I was reassured, once again, that he wasn’t using “hard” drugs and not to worry. Finding no further evidence, I believed him.
During his senior year, I knew Carl had developed an interest for marijuana, but I thought we had addressed it. So why on that dreadful July morning did I discover my son had passed away during the night?
The next several months after Carl’s death I frantically searched for answers. What signs did I miss?
During my search, I found two more empty bottles of cough syrup. But it wasn’t until after talking with his friends and finding journal entries on his computer, that I discovered that Carl had been abusing cough medicine intermittently over the past 2 1/2 years. He documented his abuse in his computer journal. Through the internet and his friends, Carl had researched and educated himself on how to use these products to get high. He wrote about and enjoyed the hallucinations achieved upon intentionally abusing cough and cold products. Carl had described the “pull” that he felt towards the disassociative effects of abusing the cough medicine and seemed to crave the effects.
According to the journal, Carl gradually increased the amount of cough medicine he abused. He wrote that he was increasingly “pulled” to the effects of escape more and more.
As his abuse increased, many things in his life were changing: graduation, college, his parents’ divorce, and increasing pressures in his life.
I wouldn’t find out until the morning of Carl’s death what he and many others knew about his abuse of cough medicine. The danger that I so desperately tried to keep out of our house had found a way to sneak in secretly. But there were no needles, no powders, no smells, no large amounts of money being spent – None of the “typical” signs associated with drug abuse.
Carl’s autopsy report revealed that he had died from a lethal mix of drugs: Fentanyl, a strong prescription narcotic available in a patch, that is removed and eaten to achieve an abusive high. Cannaboids found in marijuana, and DXM, the active ingredient in cough medicine were found in his system.
To this day, I still don’t know where Carl obtained the narcotic Fentanyl. There are no journal entries that talk about his use of painkillers. Was this his first time? Was he looking for a different high? We will never know why Carl made the wrong choice to abuse prescription and over-the-counter drugs. We only know parts of his story by the words he left behind in his journal; his words are now silent.
I have spent many hours trying to find the reason for this unexplainable tragedy. If loving my son were enough, Carl would have lived forever. But I know now that abuse of over-the-counter and prescription drugs is rapidly emerging. Parents and their children need to be made aware of these lurking dangers. It is with a heavy heart and eternal love for my son that I share his story today to hopefully prevent other families from having to suffer the same heartache.
Thank you for calling this hearing today to examine the problem of prescription drug abuse in our country. I appreciate you listening to my testimony and I am happy to answer any questions.