Jonathan Orens: “This is about chemistry, not character”

During the fall, Jonathan Orens’ son Dan passed away of an overdose. Orens introduced our solutions class to his son’s tragic story by displaying three photos of Dan, all from different times in his life. We were able to see Dan when he was in the height of his addiction contrasted with a photo of him smiling bright in recovery. Orens emphasized that his son struggled with a disease, not a moral character flaw. According to Orens, to eliminate the negative stigma of addiction, we need to be conscious of the language we use. He remarked, “If somebody has cancer, would you call them a cancer? No, you would say they have cancer.” Similarly, a person might battle with addiction, but referring to him/ her as an addict would be unjust. Orens went on to break down addiction in a journalistic manner, addressing the W’s and H.

The who refers to everybody. Anybody can struggle with addiction. Orens thinks the age people come at risk, the when, is in elementary school. He said that the earlier dialogue about addiction begins, the better. Orens explained where people are obtaining drugs. Surprisingly, he said 80% of drugs come from the pharmacy and 20% from the street. He elaborated on how big of a problem legal, prescription drugs are becoming. As far as why people begin to use drugs, Orens thinks it can be correlated to trauma or even social experimentation. How is this drug epidemic occurring? Orens pointed to doctors who are over-prescribing. After discussing addiction in terms of the W’s and H, Orens talked about how his family was affected by addiction.

Orens and his wife are now divorced, but they did have their two sons, Dan and Chad, together. He explained that other than coming from a broken family, the Orens lived a normal life in Suburbia. When Dan started showing signs of addiction, Orens was in complete denial. He knew that Dan drank and smoked marijuana, and he figured that was the extent of it. However, Dan’s addiction continued to spiral out of control. He started skipping school and stealing. Orens explained how Dan was the ultimate Jekyll and Hyde. When he was sober, he was a gentle, loving person; when he was using, he was a monster.

Throughout Dan’s life, he was in and out of different rehabs, jails, and halfway houses. He had years sober, and Orens was optimistic about his son’s future. However, Dan was in a relationship with a woman who also struggled with addiction. Orens explained that over the years he has learned that sobriety has to be more important than anything. Sadly, Dan put his relationship in front of his sobriety.

For Orens, outreach helps him cope with the loss of his son. He is on the Opiate Task Force in Philadelphia. Additionally, he likes reaching out to parents trying to navigate how to help a child struggling with addiction. Orens said he isn’t a fan of sugar coating how difficult their journeys may be. He says to parents, “Welcome to Hell, but you’re not alone.” 

About the author

Danielle Nick

Danielle Nick is a senior journalism student at Temple University. She believes traditional hard news is valuable, but incomplete. Solutions journalism, on the other hand, offers a new, exciting, and improved way to tell a story. Contact Danielle at danielle.nick@temple.edu.

Add comment

By Danielle Nick