‘Nobody needs to die’ – Drug forum ends with tragic stories, hopes to battle stigma

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Christian Buttshaw was near death in a hospital from an overdose of heroin, playing out just one more hand with addiction.

He had lied and he had stolen; he allowed people to sell drugs from his apartment across the street from a school.

He told those attending the Wake Up Austin drug forum Monday that the irony finally got through to him.

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“Here I had a family, I had people who loved me, but hey, I had friends. I lay dying in the hospital, and my ‘friends’ were stealing my truck.”

Buttshaw has been clean for five months.

“We all need someone; we’re all in this together,” he said of those who have supported him. “People don’t have to die, nobody needs to die.”

But three parents know of a different outcome to the darkness of drugs. They spoke of losing their sons to overdoses, in front of about 60 at Knowlton Auditorium at Austin High School. It marked the last of three fall sessions about ways to combat drug abuse in the Austin community.

Others on the roundtable spoke of surviving near-death due to drugs.

At the end of two hours, there was a common theme: There is recovery — recovery from addiction and the loss of loved ones — and that the addiction needs to be viewed as an illness from which thousands suffer.

The forums were conducted under the support of the Circle of Hope, Austin Community Education and Bill Spitzer, the  planning and implementation coordinator for a five-year grant to focus on creating, promoting and sustaining effective approaches to reducing alcohol and drug use, especially opioid and prescription drugs.

Johnathan Weivoda was only 26 when he died from an overdose at Apache Mall in Rochester, said his mom Peggy.

“We try to understand, but there are really no clear answers,” she said. “He was a precious young man who had such promise.”

There was alcohol addiction, then a need for prescription drugs he got for wisdom teeth extraction and then to alleviate pain from herniated discs. When he was given Vicodin after the teeth surgery, “I could see in his eyes the desire for more,” Peggy said.

His life spiraled out of control and his parents said he could no longer live in their home. “I became a detective in my own son’s life,” said Peggy, when she said she would drive the streets at night to see where her son was.

He entered treatment more than once.

In his last stay, he seemed to turn a corner.

“He said he was going to be a winner,” said Peggy. Just a few days later, he died.

Kris Burkey lost her son, Tyler, when he was only 23.

Christian Buttshaw talks about his experience with drugs that almost took his life.

Christian Buttshaw talks about his experience with drugs that almost took his life.

“I wished I had known then what I know now,” said Burkey. Looking back, she said, there were clues. He was pawning items. His friend was arrested. Finally, they discovered he had a heroin habit.

“Tyler was a beautiful person,” she said, crying. Her 20-year-old daughter found Tyler unresponsive in his bed, and he died shortly thereafter.

Burkey calls that time as “the most horrible experience” and even today, she said there is despair and anger.

“Why did you try it? Why couldn’t you stop?” she said, tears streaming.

Jordan Lukes said his addiction began “long before the drugs.” He would seek caffeine highs even as a youngster.

Later, he tried cocaine and ecstasy, OxyContin and heroin. He recalled being high one night and, upon driving to his rural home, saw a truck in the ditch upside down in flames. He called authorities and began to videotape the fire. Then he realized that it was his uncle’s truck and he had not even thought to check to see if anyone was hurt. His uncle did not survive, and his reaction — or lack of it — rattled him.

“It just got to the point where I was spending all my time chasing the dragon — trying to get that impossible high,” he said. He was also spending $200-$300 a day on his drug habit.

“I turned into a monster,” he said.

He eventually received treatment, but went back to his habit. After a time, he was “just sick all the time.”

His turning point came when he tried to commit suicide with an overdose “and the lights closed in on me.”

“And then I woke up six hours later,” he said.

He took his chance, perhaps his last. He began to put his life back together and he is clean today — some of it with a newly-found belief in something greater than himself.

“There has got to be a reason I woke up after those six hours,” he said.

LuAnn Jensen said her son, Jordan, was only 20 when drugs took his life.

He was a good student, but seemed to lose his way in high school, she said.

“That’s when he began drugs,” she said. There were signs of addiction — missing aluminum foil, spoons, his short temper and isolation — but she was not fully educated on what to look for, she said.

He died early this year, on Easter Sunday. She found him dead in his bed.

After going through a rollercoaster of emotions, she said she still struggles.

“It doesn’t stop, just because he’s gone. I struggle day by day.”

Bill Spitzer, Planning and Implementation grant coordinator, urged those at the Wake Up Austin event to get involved in the local coalition that will educate the community about drug abuse. Deb Nicklay/deb.nicklay@austindailyherald.com

Bill Spitzer, Planning and Implementation grant coordinator, urged those at the Wake Up Austin event to get involved in the local coalition that will educate the community about drug abuse. Deb Nicklay/deb.nicklay@austindailyherald.com

Some, like Weivoda, have decided to speak out and to support others in the same struggles.

“So now, we move forward,” she said, noting she is also in recovery.

“I’m recovering from the worst loss I have endured in my life,” she said. “But I will be my son’s voice.”

Reaching out and talking about addiction as an illness rather than a curse of character is one way to advance the conversation, said drug counselor Mark Wachlin, of Fountain Centers.

“If we choose to not open up and help others … then it’s (addiction) going to remain a stigma,” he said. “We are not bad people ‘getting good’ (in treatment); we’re sick people getting better.”

Tiffany Hunsley, director of Recovery is Happening, a non-profit community recovery organization, said “we (addicts) have something different, something we need to make us feel better. We’re on a quest to feel better.”

There is no shame in seeking help to combat drugs that fill the void caused by that “something different,” she said.

“We want to reach in, no matter who you are … so you can hear from people who know where you’ve been.”

That support for recovery can be found in simply becoming active in the process of drug prevention and supporting positive community norms, said Spitzer — that is, talking positively about change.  He invited those attending to get involved once the local coalition resulting from the P and I grant becomes active.

“Get involved, stuff envelopes,” he said. “Everyone is in this together.”

Roundtables will return in the spring, said Chris Lukes, founder of Circle of Hope, the organizer of the Wake Up Austin series.