When Accidental Overdose Takes Your Only Child Heide M. lost her "caring, talented, super-smart" son, Chip, just when he was loving his new life and helping others find recovery. Just when her relationship with him had grown stronger than ever. Just one week after his 20th birthday. Although Chip had struggled with substance use and mental health challenges since his early teens, he was turning things around. No one was happier than Chip when, at age 19, he marked a full year of sobriety. But then, in an unthinkable forever-instant, Chip's life ended. He was found unresponsive in his bedroom. Chip died of accidental overdose. He had apparently taken a street drug unknowingly laced with carfentanil, a synthetic opioid 10,000 times more potent than morphine. Love the Person, Hate the Disease As a grieving parent, the more Heide asks herself "why him?" the more she reminds herself: "Everything about addiction makes no sense." Heide has learned and relearned this painful truth through years of involvement with Al-Anon. "It's incredibly difficult to see through those issues and understand what you're really dealing with—a disease," she reflects. A disease with many disguises. "Addiction is a terrible, confounding disease," Heide cautions. "I'm a scientist. I want facts and logic and reason. But when addiction takes hold of someone you love, you can't make sense of what's going on. Why are they ruining their relationships? Why are they sabotaging themselves in school? Why are they throwing away everything good in their life? "It's incredibly difficult to see through those issues and understand what you're really dealing with—a disease," she reflects. A disease with many disguises. When Heide saw her happy-go-lucky, loving child "turn into an alien" as he entered his teens, she summoned "all the king's horses and all the king's men"—doctors, psychiatrists, therapists—to get answers and help. The onset of an anxiety disorder and other health issues were identified, but none of the experts recognized Chip's early drug use and its implications for his mental health. Heide eventually sent Chip to a therapeutic boarding school for two years where he excelled in every way. She felt as though she had her son back. But Heide's "good, that's taken care of" relief didn't last long. Returning home, Chip picked up where he'd left off with substances. The consequences of his drug use escalated to the point Heide made the agonizing decision to ask him to leave their house. When he was ready to go to treatment, she'd be there for him. The day Chip told Heide he needed help, she gave him the phone number for Hazelden Betty Ford's youth center in Plymouth, Minnesota. He made arrangements for admission. Inpatient treatment was followed by three months at Hazelden Betty Ford's sober living program in St. Paul, four months at a sober house, and then enrollment in a collegiate recovery program— all in all, more than a year of sober one-days-at-a-time. A First Line of Help When Heide told Chip's long-time pediatrician about his death, the doctor's response struck a nerve. "Her comment was, 'It feels like we failed him as medical professionals.'" So many of the physicians and specialists Heide had consulted through the years didn't recognize or understand the complexities of substance use and co-occurring mental health disorders. Yet pediatricians, family practitioners and other primary care physicians are in a vital position to not only detect early warning signs of addiction but to intervene with the patient and to educate parents, spouses and other family members. In 2019, Heide found a lasting way to honor Chip when she learned about Hazelden Betty Ford's Summer Institute for Medical Students—an immersive, week-long educational program where future physicians shadow treatment clinicians and patients. By establishing a memorial scholarship fund in Chip's name, Heide is equipping more medical students with the knowledge and skills to assess and address substance use disorders and educate family members. In this way, Chip's life will help save countless other lives—just as he would want. Photograph Caption: With his powerful curiosity and extraordinary sense of compassion, Chip made friends wherever he went. Heide has heard stories from people everywhere about how her son helped them. Investing in Healing and Hope Most medical schools provide just a few hours of instruction on substance use disorders. Hazelden Betty Ford’s Professionals in Residence and Summer Institute for Medical Students programs offer intensive, week-long immersion sessions about addiction treatment and recovery. In 2019, nearly 400 professionals and medical students attended these programs, which are made possible through the generosity of donors such as Heide M.