Jon Orens began his presentation to our class with three photos overturned. Two photos were of a handsome, muscular twenty-something kid who was smiling, present, aware. The last photo showed someone hooked up to machines in a hospital bed who was out of it, detached from reality, crumpled. The catch? They were all of the same person: Dan Orens, one of Jon’s two sons. Dan died of an overdose three months ago.
The visuals Jon used were jarring, particularly his description of a time he got a call that Dan had flipped a car while intoxicated about a decade ago. Jon arrived at the scene, only “seeing blood, not him,” he said. He added that he didn’t know whether Dan was alive or dead until he arrived at the hospital. He described, in detail, times that he walked into hotel rooms where Dan was lying on the bed, surrounded by bottles and bags of substances or his son walking into his room at 4 a.m. with no perception of time. Or Jon’s own account of having to kick his son out of the house.
Jon’s talk stuck with me, and I’ve caught myself thinking about things he shared with us several times since he visited. He is the first family member of an overdose victim to visit, and I think that particular involvement with the disease is what’s making it stand out. Also, I really admired the ideas he presented about addiction, like normalizing mental health screenings for kids to evaluate the likelihood they’ll have addiction and education about the effects of “entry-level drugs” — his synonym for alcohol and marijuana. It also stressed the numerous people affected by addiction — not just those affected by the disease. As a journalist, it’s important to keep this in mind to tell a well-rounded story.