- Associated Press - Monday, October 16, 2017

CHESTERTON, Ind. (AP) - “I awoke on the morning of Oct. 20, 2016, with thoughts of my upcoming trip to New Jersey. In 10 days’ time, Patrick and I would be in full hiking mode,” Kate Garrity recited from a letter she often reads to grade school students. She was sitting on her flower-filled back porch, her two black labs by her side.

“We hiked every fall together, calling it ‘hikes for life.’ Patrick was an addict struggling to stay clean.

“We walked in nature, pushing ourselves to go farther than we ever had before in the hopes of pushing away the demons for good. I sent Patrick a text that morning. He did not respond. But, hey, he’s a 25-year-old kid. What kid doesn’t ignore texts from their mom from time to time?

“Little did I know that in a few short hours my world would come crashing down.”

Patrick “Kipp” Garrity likely didn’t know the heroin he was doing that day was fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin. Drug dealers often cut or replace heroin with fentanyl because it’s cheaper. Fentanyl and related synthetic opioids now kill more Americans than heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After Patrick didn’t show up for work, his father found him later that Thursday at their home in New Jersey, unconscious. Patrick’s dad and brothers tried to revive him with CPR. Paramedics administered naloxone, the overdose reversal drug. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.

The road to advocacy

His mom, Kate, was 800 miles away, in Chesterton, where she lives with her boyfriend. She splits her time between Northwest Indiana and New Jersey. Patrick, who worked in the restaurant industry, attended Chesterton High School his freshman year. Kate describes him as a sweet person just trying to find his way in life.

Back in New Jersey to bury her son, Kate saw something in the local paper about the spate of overdoses; there were 10 within a 30-mile radius the day Patrick died. She called the reporter to tell him about a memorial the family was having for Patrick. The newspaper published an article about her. That’s where her advocacy began.

The town’s mayor asked if she would share Patrick’s story at a town hall meeting on the opioid epidemic. The media also covered that event. “Word got around and people just kept calling,” she said.

She told her story at local grade schools, alongside the county sheriff and prosecutor, at a mosque. “Sometimes it’s four to five times a week, and it’s way too much. I just collapse into myself,” she said. “But I find that speaking out and sharing his story helps me heal.”

Her county in New Jersey, much like Northwest Indiana, continues to see record numbers of opioid overdose deaths. She befriended other mothers of overdose victims. Her friends call her a “warrior mom” for having the courage to speak out.

“I think Patrick is pushing me to do it, from up above, I totally believe that he is,” she said. “I’m not normally this outspoken, but this is something near and dear to me. There are just too many people out there going through it.”

She believes prevention is the best way to address the opioid crisis. Once people are addicted to heroin or painkillers, as Patrick’s case illustrates, it’s often too late. So she hopes to reach kids when they’re young, before they start using, educating them about the sometimes-fatal consequences of drugs.

Son had a positive attitude

At her home in Chesterton, Garrity continued reading from the letter about her son that has now been heard by hundreds of students:

“His family was his everything. He never had a bad thing to say about anybody. The most important thing Patrick taught me in life was positivity. He could take anything negative and turn it into a positive.

“So I’m taking the negative aspect of his passing and honoring him by turning it into a positive, by speaking out, ending the stigma, pushing for education at the grade-school level and helping others who need guidance with addiction and overdose and loss.

“The hardest thing I’ve ever heard was that my child passed away. The hardest thing I’ve ever done is to live every day since that moment. This moment is for you, PatrickKippGarrity, in loving memory of you.”

She set down the letter and fell silent, birds chirping in the distance.

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Source: The (Northwest Indiana) Times

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Information from: The Times, https://www.nwitimes.com


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