BEAVERCREEK, Ohio (WDTN) — Christina Daley is a hardworking and caring mother, but another purpose has also revealed itself in her life — a calling to be an advocate for those who have lost loved ones to addiction.
Christina’s 21-year-old son, Blake Amburgey, passed away last October after experiencing a fentanyl overdose.
Fentanyl is a powerful synthetic opioid that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent. It is a prescription drug that is also made illegally. It is one of the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths in the country, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Christina said that she wants people to take the time to learn her son’s story.
“Blake was a really funny, smart kid when he was little,” Christina said of her son’s childhood years. “He made friends very easily. Everybody liked him. Adults liked him. He was always polite. That’s the one thing I always heard: ‘Oh he’s such a nice kid’.”
She said that when Blake got to middle school, he began to struggle with depression and anxiety, which eventually caused him to self harm.
“We tried to get him into counseling and things like that, but kids that age aren’t always open to that.”
When Blake was 15, he underwent surgery to have his appendix removed.
“He sat at the hospital for at least over 24 hours, almost two days before they took [his appendix] out,” Christina said. “He was on a lot of morphine and stuff to dull the pain, and I feel like that’s really when something changed with him. I’ve read that kids who are given high pain killers like that at such a young age, it can trigger something in their brain.”
Christina shared that Blake also had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADD), which can cause impulsive decision-making.
“He started smoking pot, he started drinking, and that’s where it all began. Then, it snowballed into abusing his ADD medication, even though I was trying to watch and supervise him.”
The situation worsened when Blake received a DUI after leaving prom with Xanax in his system. Christina said that her son, who was 17 at the time, didn’t remember anything about the night.
When Blake moved out on his own after graduating high school, he was living with his girlfriend at the time, and Christina said he was feeling unhappy and stuck.
“He started drinking, and he was doing drugs to kind of numb, to not even have to think about it.”
Christina said the situation escalated when Blake got into a fight with his girlfriend and best friend.
She said Blake was drunk, and they took his car keys, refusing to let him drive. The police were called to the altercation, and he was sent to prison.
“In jail, he completed drug programs. When he came out, he completed whatever drug programs they asked him to…Eventually, he was able to get a job. He was doing really well – He had goals, he was going to work every day, he was paying his own bills. He was living by himself at the time.”
Unfortunately, Blake’s road to recovery took a sharp and unexpected detour.
“Once he turned 21, he started drinking a lot. I would say that was probably his main thing, probably smoking pot but mostly drinking. I was mostly worried about a DUI, or getting in an accident and hurting someone, or, you know, alcohol poisoning, any of that. We hadn’t talked about drugs in a long time, because it wasn’t a huge concern, but he went out one night and he hooked up with some people who he wasn’t really friends with, and the next day, I got a phone call that he was found dead of a drug overdose.”
Christina describes feeling shocked and having an abundance of unanswered questions upon receiving the call.
She said Blake died from overdosing on cocaine laced with fentanyl. She said he had double the lethal amount of fentanyl in his system.
“It’s so surreal. Like, those first few months, going through that. It doesn’t seem real, because it happens to other people, not to you, not to your child. I always thought, like, well this stuff only happens to people who are full-blown addicted to heroin or parents who are stronger than me who can handle losing a child – Not that anyone can handle losing a child. I didn’t think it was anything that I could ever live through.”
Christina said one of the most difficult things about losing her son was the stigma surrounding addiction.
“No one grows up and says, ‘You know what, I want to grow up and be a drug addict and lose all my family and friends’. Nobody says, ‘You know what, I just think I’m going to get high every day for the rest of my life’. Everybody has a story. There’s usually something that started it. For my son, it was depression and anxiety and self-medication to make himself feel normal. I feel like if people would just take the time to talk to somebody who has recovered from addiction or who has an active addiction, there is a story there that maybe they could possibly then find some empathy for.”
Christina explained that a variety of factors can lead to addiction, such as genetics, abuse, trauma or even something as innocent as a medical procedure at the hospital.
“A lot of what I’ve heard is someone had surgery, and it started with pain killers. They take the pain killers away, but for some people, that made them feel less anxiety and more normal, and then it gets out of control.”
Christina said she has devoted her time to spreading awareness about the opioid epidemic.
The night celebrated International Overdose Awareness Day and Recovery Awareness Month. It featured a health resource fair with free naloxone, a Celebrate Recovery meeting and guest speakers like Christina who discussed their experience with losing a loved one to an unintentional overdose.
Christina said that she hopes continually talking about what happened to her son will shift the stigma surrounding addiction.
“I think people need to understand that these are not bad people. Things have happened and gotten them to a bad place.”
To break the stigma surrounding addiction, Christina has joined a nonprofit organization called “4 Them We Fight”. The main goal of the organization is to motivate parents to facilitate discussions about the dangers of fentanyl to their kids.
“I feel like that’s where I’m finding my healing, in doing something productive, because I think that’s what my son would want me to do…I feel like I’m healing by talking about it. I’m healing by sharing his story. I’m healing by trying to educate other people.”
Christina’s final message is this: “Have an open mind and talk to people who are struggling, because they need support. They need to feel like they’re loved and that their life means something. Unless they die, there’s always a chance of recovery. People need support to reach that point.”
You can listen to Christina’s story here.