“Stop having cancer”: bad news in fight against heroin

A parent burying a child instead of vice versa. It’s a reversal of how life is supposed to work, and the painful paradox has been remarked upon all the way back to the Greek historian Thucydides. This time, the sentiment came from the mouth of Cindy King-Anderson, an eastern Ohio mom whose oldest son, Sean O’Connor, died of a heroin-related overdose in May in Lakewood on the west side of Cleveland. “It’s an undescribable feeling to lose a child,” Cindy told me in a phone interview. “It’s just not natural.” We spoke for a follow-up story I did on a deadly twist in the state’s addictions epidemic. Hundreds of overdose deaths last year involved not just heroin but fentanyl, a painkiller normally used for chronic pain such as that suffered by end-stage cancer patients but which is being synthesized by drug cartels and mixed with heroin to boost its high. Fentanyl is 30 to 50 times more powerful than heroin, so the results are often deadly, as in Sean’s case. We’ve had to write about heroin a lot recently, as in this story from my colleague, Dan Sewell, about Butler County’s continuing struggles to save lives. Cindy was generous with her time and her son’s story as part of her mission to spread information about the drug problem. Too many people, she said, just don’t understand the grip of the addiction. “You look at an addict, and you can’t just tell them to stop,” she said. “It’s like looking at somebody and saying, ‘Stop having cancer.’ “

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