app.com: Parents Take Up Battle Against Heroin

5/6/2016

, @KenSerranoAPP9:25 a.m. EDT May 6, 2016

Parents remember their son lost to addiction

 

In a state where heroin addiction claims two lives a day, it would have been easy to overlook the death of accomplished local musician Justin P. Thouret. The 31-year-old drummer and tech school student overdosed in his home in Matawan on New Year's Eve.

As they fought through their tears - his mother, Marianne, found Justin's body in his bedroom with the needle still in his arm - the parents decided they had to fight addiction in one of the few ways they knew how.

They took their private pain and made it public.

EXCLUSIVE: The Children of Heroin Series

“Justin lost his battle to anxiety and substance abuse and succumbed to an accidental overdose,” his obituary in the Jan. 4 edition of the Asbury Park Press read.

 

Writing those words took determination.

The funeral home director sent the obituary back three times to the family, asking if it needed to be corrected, Claude Thouret Jr., Justin's father, said. He and Marianne felt the funeral home’s response was not so much a rejection but a way of giving the grieving family opportunities to reconsider.

“We wanted to make a difference in the world by helping people see that you can be honest about what happened and maybe save someone else in the process,” Marianne said.

WATCH: Destroyed by heroin

Her husband stifled a well of emotion.

“There’s no shame. There’s no stigma. What there is is tragedy,” he said. “And until we get past all the nonsense about the stigma and the shame and deal with the tragedy we’re not going to solve this issue in any way, shape, manner or form for parents of living addicts or dead addicts. There is no shame. I’m proud of my son.”

 

Heroin killed at least 775 people in New Jersey in 2014, according to the latest statistics from the Office of the State Medical Examiner. It is part of a growing number of deaths as heroin becomes more potent and a cheaper - an easy way for those addicted to prescription painkillers to find a new high. Nationally, heroin overdose death rates have more than tripled since 2010, from 1 per 100,000 in 2010 to 3.4 per 100,000 in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That includes a 26 percent jump from 2013 to 2014.

MORE: Children of Heroin, Chapter 1: "Stabbed in the heart"

The Thourets are one of several parents who called the Press following its "Children of Heroin" series last month. The series focused on the impact of the heroin epidemic on the children of addicts.

The Press’ series also sparked more calls to addiction hotlines. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s NJ Connect for Recovery said calls to its hotline rose 140 percent after the series launched, and have remained at that high level since last week, said Merrill Altberg, communications director for the association.

 

The call line has certified alcohol and drug counselors and peer specialists who counsel addicts and their loved ones as well as directing people to treatment and other resources.

MORE: Children of Heroin, Chapter 2: Addiction

John Ramaglia of Lacey, who also contacted the Press, has begun a personal campaign to pressure officials to answer difficult questions about the epidemic's stranglehold in his township.

His son, Matthew Charles Ramaglia, committed suicide in 2007 at age 21 after becoming addicted at age 15.

“Three people on my street were felled by heroin,” Ramaglia told the Lacey Board of Education on April 25. “Three kids who played in my backyard are dead today….I want to know how come we keep doing the same and the outcome just keeps getting worse and worse and worse."

Ramaglia, 65, appeared at a Township Committee meeting earlier, posing some of the same questions he asked the school board.

“Do you know how many Lacey High School students have died because of heroin-related deaths?” he asked the board.

MORE: Children of Heroin, Chapter 3: Death of a father

No one knew, including Ramaglia. A retired information technology specialist for the U.S. Navy who understands the collection of data, Ramaglia suggested officials contact funeral homes for such information.

He plans to continue to pressure government officials for answers and action, he said.

"We couldn't save him"

Justin Thouret suffered from a severe anxiety disorder that set in as he entered his teen years, his parents said.

Up until he was 13 or 14, Justin “was all smiles,” his father said.

And avid soccer player, Justin served as captain of his Matawan youth team. The coaches called him "The Professor," his mother said, because of his sure knowledge of the game and his ability to direct the action on the field.

But his prowess and the smiles faded.

“For most of the rest of his life, he spent time by himself," his father said. "He played music, he gamed and he stayed to himself. He didn’t go out. We don’t even have his voice anywhere. He never set up his voicemail on his cell phone.”

MORE: Children of Heroin: Surviving trauma

His limited social life consisted largely of music. He was the drummer in a local band,So Is the Tongue, that produced two albums and toured the Northeast, playing venues like the Brighton Bar in Long Branch.

After prescription anti-anxiety medication failed to help him, he turned to heroin. In 2013, when the Thourets learned that their son was injecting the narcotic, they refused to turn him out of the home.

 

He was saved once by Narcan, the antidote to an opioid overdose, and he was arrested last year on a drug charge.

Toward the end of last year, his life seemed to have turned a corner. He was just six months away from obtaining an associate’s degree in drafting and computer-assisted design from a technical school. He had landed a job with an engineering firm after four years of unemployment. The drug arrest turned into an opportunity when it forced him into an intensive outpatient rehabilitation. More than a month in, he appeared to be sticking to it, his parents said.  His mood was upbeat.

In the evening on Dec. 30, Justin headed out to join co-workers to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

MORE: Children of Heroin: Born on drugs

“He came over and kissed both of us goodbye and said ‘I love you.’" His father said. "He seemed to be in a good place."

The next morning, Marianne Thouret noticed the glow from Justin's ceiling room light beaming under the closed door. He had the day off and he typically slept in.

"I knocked on the door and was like, 'Are you awake in there. What’s going on? How come you’re not sleeping in this morning?' And I got nothing," she said. "Silence. An eerie silence and my heart sank.'

Behind the unlocked door, Justin's body lay on the floor, his face blue and distorted, a syringe in his arm with the heroin barely injected.

“I knelt down and he was cold. He was stiff,” she said.

The overpowering pull of addiction was too much for Justin.

"Ten steps down the hall, we couldn’t protect him,” his mother said through tears. “Ten steps down the hall, we couldn’t save him.”

MORE: Heroin at the Jersey Shore

Marianne Thouret now wears a silver locket with Justin's thumbprint embossed on the front shell. It contains his photo and a lock of his hair. And she has traded her gold jewelry for silver, a symbol of overdose awareness.

The Thourets plan to take other steps to confront the heroin epidemic in their way.

A benefit in honor of Justin is scheduled for September to raise money for HOPE Sheds Light, a Shore-based addiction awareness organization that holds an annual walk in Seaside Heights, and the Traveling Guitar Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports musical programs in low-income school districts.

Need help or know someone who does?

The Mental Health Association in New Jersey’s NJ Connect for Recovery provides a safe, free, confidential, nonjudgmental place where New Jersey residents may call for support. The hotline operates live, weekdays only, noon to 8 p.m. (Messages left  during off hours will be returned the next business day.) The toll-free number is 855-652-3737 (TTY: 877-294-4356) and the website address is www.njconnectforrecovery.org

For more immediate help, the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration runs a 24/7, 365-day-a-year hotline that can put callers in touch with local services. The toll-free number is 800-662-HELP (4357) (800-487-4889 TDD). The web site address for finding local help is https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov

Sources: The Mental Health Association in New Jersey, Inc.; SAMHSA

Ken Serrano: 732-643-4029; kserrano@gannettnj.com