Jim and Jeanne Moser were unaware that their 27-year-old son was struggling with addiction until a state trooper knocked on their door to inform them Adam was found dead from an apparent fentanyl overdose. Now, the Mosers are trying to use their family's story to encourage others to talk more openly about the risks of prescription drug abuse, early and often.
(The audio and transcript below have been lightly edited for clarity.)
In 2015, the Mosers garnered widespread support for the especially candid obituary they wrote for Adam following his death. Here, his mother describes why they decided to open up about the dangers of drug abuse from the beginning.
Jeanne: Well, you know we struggled with, What are we going to write? And your first instinct is to feel shame. And to hide it. And we have learned, it's not shameful. That there's no discrimination, that it hits everybody.
So, very quickly, we all decided as a family — Jim and I and Adam's three siblings — we said, let's just tell the truth because everybody's gonna ask anyway, and we're going to get hit over and over again.
We were also inspired by a young woman (Molly Parks) who passed before Adam. Her dad (Tom Parks) wrote a very honest (obituary).
I'm glad we did. Because it was just a plea to other people who read it, and a lot of his friends, to just say: Please, don't even think about touching drugs. There's no do-overs with opioids. There's no going back. You take it, you're done.
As hard as that was, right away we had quite an outpouring of not only the media but friends and family and people we didn't know to just say thank you for being so candid, you know, and it just kind of escalated from there.
Jim: How could we have never — how did we miss that? We had a lot of conversations about drugs and alcohol in general. But nothing about prescription pills.
Looking back, we didn't respect opioids, because we were never educated to respect them. So that's where this whole thing (comes from) about not blaming healthcare, just saying: Going forward, healthcare is a great place to educate people. Because that's where the whole thing starts. Opioids are an essential part of healthcare, they're not going to go away. We might as well — when people take them home, they respect them.
We had them in our kitchen spin-around. Right next to the salt... pepper... opioids... cake sprinkles... Absurd, you know? Because we didn't think anything of it. We just kept them around like an Aspirin. And that's not the thing to do. So Adam got ahold of those. That was part of the whole thing, but certainly a contributor.
Jeanne: Not knowing what an opioid was, I had always heard the term painkiller. I had no idea the effects on people. You heard that they were addictive, but I didn't understand why. I just didn't understand the whole thing. So when I had hand surgery, Jim had knee surgery, I just — it just made me fall asleep. I didn't want to take them. It didn't take the pain away. But apparently, they affect everybody in different ways. We just didn't know the consequences of it.
Jeanne: So many people have asked us, What are the signs? What should we look for as parents? I wish that there was a one, two, three — these are the three things. Unfortunately, there's not.
It's a silent, secretive hobby, as Adam called it. And I think people can get away with it for a while, taking prescription pills. But even taking prescription pills, that escalates to needing more and stronger pills.
So, you know, he was able to have a job, but he never had any money. Did we know that? No. We kind of learned that after the fact. So a lot of these warning signs were shared after he was dead. Because one person thought, Oh, well, he never had any money. Another one's like, Oh, that's why he didn't go on a job interview, because he was going to be drug tested. We didn't know any of those things. It's not clear-cut in that way, except that maybe behaviors get more reckless, and they're more accident-prone.
I think that's what's so scary... Nobody sets out to do fentanyl or heroin. But when they get to that point and it's still hidden, there's not a lot of time between life and death. I wish that I had an answer to give people.
Jim: We're just all about education, because we never had that conversation. Do we know that would've saved Adam's life? No. But do we know we would've had a better chance by having the conversation than by not having it at all? Absolutely.
So that's what we're pleading to other parents — to have the conversation, even if it doesn't go well. Have it. A lot of people are afraid to have it because they're afraid of how it will go, they don't know how to manage it. And that's difficult. Maybe there's some credibility to helping parents discuss that, you know, guidelines. But in the end you kind of got to go with the way it works for you.
The main thing is to have the conversation. We never did that, and then we were careless with the product itself.
Adam was a smart kid, and he definitely pushed the envelopes... But he wasn't an unhappy sober person. He wasn't unhappy sober. He just would do this, once in a while, and then once you get pills involved, then you do become addicted, and you're no longer behaving the way that you would. Then it's a battle. And it's something you have to admit to, and I don't think he ever got to that point, either. Thought he could take care of it all on his own. And he failed.
Channelling Grief Into Lessons Learned, Prevention to Help Others
From their kitchen in East Kingston, the Mosers have launched a new campaign ("ZERO LEFT") aimed at getting medical professionals to encourage safe disposal of prescription drugs and to more clearly educate patients on the risks of such medications. You can learn more about their efforts in this recent article from Seacoast Online.
They also partnered with a film crew to create a short documentary telling Adam's story, which they have presented as part of prevention curriculum at several local schools.
In a recent letter penned to family and friends, the Mosers wrote: We will carry to our grave regret for never, ever having a prescription opioid pain pill conversation with Adam. They urged others to make sure to have those conversations, "specific to opioids," with as many loved ones as possible.
"As a parent, living with that, that's why we're babbling about this," Jim says. "I think if Adam had known these things were potentially fatal and still did it... That gets into the whole substance and addiction. But never having had the conversation, as a parent, there’s a lot of responsibility in that. So we’re just trying to make sure nobody else does the same thing."