Like thousands of families shattered by drug overdoses, Becky and Mike Savage needed time and space — a breathless, agonizing canyon of pain — to begin to come to terms with the deaths of their two teenage sons. The Savages of Granger, Ind., a town near South Bend, lost two of their four sons on the same night due to accidental overdoses.

Smart, athletic and talented, 19-year-old Nick and 18-year-old Jack went to a graduation party together on June 13, 2015. Nick, a soon-to-be sophomore at Indiana University, and Jack, a soon-to-be freshman at Ball State University, returned home with friends around midnight.

They died sometime overnight, Jack in his bed and Nick in the basement with friends.

The boys had mixed alcohol and oxycodone. Even a small amount of alcohol with a tablet containing oxycodone can be deadly, medical research has shown. But Nick and Jack, neither with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, didn’t know the dangers. Their friends didn’t know the dangers. Their parents didn’t know the dangers.

They want you to know. The Savages launched the 525 Foundation in honor of their sons. The foundation’s purpose is to educate. Becky Savage has traveled to schools around the country, shared her family’s tragic story with media outlets and testified before Congress. The foundation also spearheads a drop-off program at local grocery stores where people can anonymously leave unused prescriptions. The money raised through the foundation pays for the drop-off boxes and a removal company that safely destroys the medicines.

Like many parents, the Savages had talked to their boys about drugs and alcohol, drinking and driving, sex — coming-of-age conversations that for decades have become part of the American teenage experience. National education campaigns, school curriculum changes and a cultural shift toward awareness have become part of the growing-up lexicon.

But there’s a gap. Parents and educators are not as vigilant in warning about the dangers of prescription drugs. Many medicine cabinets — maybe yours — house bottles of powerful, legal painkillers, often expired or no longer used, but still potentially lethal. An accident, an injury or surgery can justify all kinds of medications. The contents of those bottles, though, can be deadly if they end up in the wrong hands.

Becky Savage has a compelling story to tell young people, their parents and grandparents, their educators and all the adults in their lives. Fourth of July weekend, with families gathered and work schedules light, is an ideal time to read her message — and follow, not sidestep, her advice.

The details of the night Nick and Jack died remain somewhat unclear. Two people at the graduation party were charged criminally after police learned the gathering took place at a home where parents were out of town, underage kids were drinking and at least one person handed out pills. One of the pill distributors himself suffered an overdose that night but was revived by paramedics.

Becky Savage believes the boys were drinking and their altered state of mind, along with peer pressure, contributed to their decision to take painkillers. In her speeches to teens, she reminds them how one bad decision, one first-time experiment, can be deadly.

The World Drug Report estimates up to 53 million people used opioids in 2017 — and represented a remarkable two-thirds of the 585,000 who died from drug use. In the U.S., more than 70,000 people died of drug overdoses that year. Overdose deaths in Illinois since 2013 have jumped by 60 percent to an estimated 2,525 in 2018. Opioids include illegal drugs, such as heroin; synthetic drugs such as fentanyl and hydrocodone; and legal prescription drugs such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and morphine.

Studies have shown even a small amount of alcohol mixed with oxycodone can cause alarming side effects including respiratory problems. The Savage boys’ cause of death was accidental overdose.

Her advice to parents is to clean out medicine cabinets and have conversations about how to “create an exit plan” a teen can implement when he or she wants to escape a peer-pressure situation. She also tells parents not to overreact if they end up picking up their teens at parties where they shouldn’t have been in the first place. At least the young people are still alive.

Today. This weekend. Please. Have the talk.

 -- Chicago Tribune

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