On Nov.16, 2016, 28-year-old Danny Orens passed away after battling with a substance-use disorder for 11 years. He had recently celebrated two years of sobriety. Jon Orens, Danny’s father, remained remarkably calm and collected while he talked to our class about Danny. I admire this about him – to me, his composure reflected the immense amount of passion he has for educating others on addiction and recovery.
When Jon took Danny to a treatment center for the first time, he remembers thinking, “Thank God I got him into rehab, now he’ll be fine.”
But after 28 days in rehab, Danny went right back out to party and use with his friends. Before and after rehab, Danny’s substance use disorder became dangerous for himself and the others around him. He flipped a car once while he was high and one night he forgot to turn off a gas stove after cooking a meal. The drugs he was using – alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines – made him lose all perception of time. Another time when he was high, Danny wandered into Jon’s room at 4 a.m., just to ask if he could borrow a belt.
Danny grew up in the suburbs, a place most parents see as relatively safe and drug free. Scott Mclane, a former guest speaker, also grew up in the suburbs and attended a Catholic private school before developing a substance use disorder. When most people hear about drug use, they assume it is only going on in the poor areas of large cities. However, affluent households are more likely to have access to prescription medications like opiates and other highly addictive substances. 80% of drugs that are abused come from a pharmacy, while only 20% are from the streets.
I also grew up in the suburbs and attended public school while living there. Public schools have gotten a bad rap from the media in the past. In movies and television shows, the public-school kids are always the ones doing drugs, drinking and committing crimes. However, in the area where I grew up, the private and catholic schools were the ones with drug and alcohol problems. Although Jon and Scott Mclane just briefly mentioned living in the suburbs, the fact that they mentioned it at all has stuck with me. I am noticing that I was not the only one who grew up in an area where the rich, private school students were the ones doing and buying the most drugs. I think it could be interesting to investigate this trend further. A potential reason for this trend could be a lack of parenting combined with a lot of money. Most of these parents also have access to good healthcare, so getting prescription drugs is not an issue for them. After the prescription drugs are no longer needed, most parents just leave the pills in a medicine cabinet, where anyone can access them.
Jon’s story is somewhat of an allegory for solutions journalism. After suffering a great tragedy, he became motivated to help others find a solution for substance use disorders. He is now a member of the Philadelphia Opiate Task force, and he helps other parents that have children with substance use disorders. Jon is not paid for this work – he is happy and eager to do it for free.