Families fight to move forward after drugs take their loved ones away

“Loving, caring, he had a fool about her,” Denise Spiller said.

Denise Spiller is a proud mom.

“He played football from 5 to 15 years old,” said Spiller.

He is Austin, the son of Denise born in 1992 in Wisconsin. There, Denise raised Austin and her daughter before moving to northern Alabama.

“He was a lovely boy,” Spiller said.

When Austin was 13, his sister had her wisdom teeth pulled out. Both tried pain relievers. It was Austin’s first exposure to drugs.

“Now he was very young at that time, so I don’t know if it started his addiction, but the taste for it started so young,” Spiller said.

A veteran, Denise often had to leave her children to serve abroad.

“I feel like my deployment to Iraq just before he turned 16 got him to start dealing with this,” Spiller said.

When Denise returned to the United States in 2008, Austin admitted to trying morphine for the first time. Shortly after, he was arrested, drugged.

“That’s when I really started watching his actions,” Spiller said.

Austin’s addiction would only intensify. Denise took him to rehab where he started Suboxone, a drug to help him manage his addiction. Something Denise was the right thing to do. But it turned out that he was using Suboxone to get morphine and fentanyl patches.

“Again, as a mom at that point, I’m like ‘OK he’ll be fine after a 15 day stay’ and you think it’s over,” Spiller said. “I didn’t know. And I started going. To Alanon at that point it’s forever as an addict.”

Not long after, Denise went on a trip with her National Guard unit. It was the week after Memorial Day 2013. The moment she was saying goodbye to her son for the last time.

“I couldn’t contact him, I kept calling him, calling him, calling my daughter,” Spiller said. touch with him ”, we would find him passed out or whatever. Well, that’s when she found it.

Austin passed away on June 8, 2013, leaving a grieving family behind. Now Denise is using Austin’s death to help others by volunteering at local organizations to try and prevent other families from feeling the same pain.

“So now I am this ship, I have to be this ship to reach the others,” Spiller said. “Some of Austin’s friends showed up at the cemetery when I was there and said his death saved them.”

Austin is not alone. Overdoses in Madison County have skyrocketed over the past year, in particular. In 2020, Madison County recorded an average of 64 overdoses per month. This year to date, that average is 77.

“A patient overdosed that morning. This patient was taken to the emergency department where he was treated and released and on the same day that evening the patient overdosed again,” said Don Webster of HEMSI.

Overdoses increase not only in quantity but in intensity. Fentanyl is now responsible for three in four overdose deaths.

“Fentanyl is about 100 times more potent than morphine alone. A few grams is enough to kill an average adult,” Madison County Coroner Tyler Berryhill said.

Denise’s daughter told her that Austin bought two Fentanyl patches right before she died.

“He knew he was dealing with a patch for cancer patients,” Spiller said. “He actually ingested it. He took a piece of that patch, chewed it, then went into cardiac arrest.”

Austin has been dead eight years. Denise now spends her free time advocating for drug addicts throughout northern Alabama.

About Rhonda Lee

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