Pottsgrove grads, best friends overdose seven months apart
|(Photo by Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury) Kathy Mackie, left, and Coleen Watchorn, right, sit in front of the praying hands monument at Highland Memorial Park, where their sons Trevor and Stephen are buried.|
By Brandie Kessler email@example.com
Trevor Mackie and Stephen Watchorn were best friends. Both attended Pottsgrove High School; both came from good homes, with good parents, and had bright futures. Swept up in an epidemic, they died just seven months apart, Trevor, at the age of 24 in January 2012, and Stephen, just 28, in August. Their mothers, Kathy and Coleen, struggling to resolve the grief in their hearts, want to do whatever they can to save others.
But they worry those who need to hear their message the most will turn away. *** Neither woman ever thought her child would die of a heroin overdose. For Trevor and Stephen, it didn’t start out that way, either.
|Trevor Mackie as a child.|
The downward spiral
It was about that time that things started deteriorating for Trevor and for Stephen. They couldn’t keep their jobs. Their personalities were changing. They were selling their belongings, the things they used to love turned into drug tokens. Valuables in the Mackie household were disappearing. Trevor stole from his parents. He likely pawned the valuables or found a way to convert them to cash, which he used to feed his addiction. He hacked into his parent’s accounts and wired money to himself from their credit card. Then, he stole checks from them and cashed them, robbing them of thousands of dollars. “You keep threatening. You just get to a point where you can’t take it anymore,” Kathy said. “You couldn’t leave him alone here. You had to hide everything. It just gets to a point when it’s too much. That $3,000 was it.” Even when Kathy and her husband made the difficult decision to tell Trevor he had to find another place to live, their grief, anger and despair weren’t the only clouds hanging over them. “People were calling, people were showing up at the door, ‘Trevor owes me money,’” Mackie said. “Then stop giving him money!” she would scream inside, helpless. “I was the softy. I kept thinking he was going to get better,” she said. But she had to give up the hope that she was going to make her son get clean because it was only enabling him. “I said, ‘I don’t care where you go, go sit on some rehab center’s steps until they let you in. You can’t stay here.’”
Coleen said she doesn’t think Stephen ever stole from her. He would, however, take the drugs he was prescribed and sell them or trade them to get what he wanted, Coleen speculated. She noted that while the drugs were lawfully prescribed, she wonders if things would be any different if the various doctors would have communicated with one another and been aware of what they were providing him. She said she and the rest of her family had to come to terms with the fact they would not be able to rescue Stephen; he had to be the one to do it. Coleen said there was a family meeting with some professionals at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in June, less than three months before her son died. “Until you, his family, stop paying his rent, his groceries … what reason does he have to stop doing what he’s doing?” That’s the reality check Coleen and the rest of Stephen’s family got. As simple as the suggestion was — stop helping him kill himself — knowing the strong pull of the opiates was maddening. “We sat in that family meeting and I realized, my son is going to die, and I can’t save him,” Coleen said.
Blame comes easy
Although it’s easy to blame the addicts, easy to blame them for the trouble they’ve created with their dangerous decisions, the solution to the problem isn’t that simple. As frustrated and angry, sad and desperate as Kathy and Coleen felt, unable to understand why they couldn’t make their sons stop, the moments of raw honesty they witnessed gave them a glimpse of their sons’ private struggles. Kathy remembered once, after Trevor had broken their family’s trust so many times, he broke down. “He said to us, ‘Do you think I like stealing from you? You’re awesome parents,’” she recalled. At that point, the drugs were always fighting for control. She could see her son was fighting back, but tired. Coleen met her son for lunch one day last summer after he’d been through rehab and was doing well. In the news at that time, former Philadelphia Eagles’ coach Andy Reid’s son Garrett Reid had just died, and everyone was speculating he had overdosed. In fact, months later, Reid’s death was confirmed as a heroin overdose. Coleen said she asked Stephen about what goes through someone’s mind when they get high. “I said, ‘Don’t you think about your family when this happens,’” when you’re using? The pain filled her son’s face as he told her “I see your face every day.” She remembered the way she screamed at him to go to rehab in June, inconsolable that she couldn’t fix things. His words, that he thought of his mother and his family every time he got the urge to use, were convincing. “And he was dead a week and a half later,” Coleen said.
‘Drugs are everywhere’
In addition to not wanting to be addicts, Kathy and Coleen said their sons didn’t want to die. They had lost friends to drug overdoses. Coleen said her son told her how badly he wanted to get away. “Stephen told me he needed to get out of Pottstown. ‘There are drugs everywhere,’” Coleen said. “He said, ‘Mom, you wouldn’t have a clue as to who all it is’” doing opiates, and said he could name 15 kids. Eventually, both women came to know the gamut of rehabilitation facilities in the area and how to weave their way through the system, however frustrating. Not only did their sons, being of legal age, need to agree to go to rehab, they — like many addicts seeking help — had to deal with inadequate resources.
There are a limited number of rehab facilities, especially ones of quality, with short stays. “They go to this rehab, and unless you’re made of money, they get out and they come home, right back into the same surroundings,” Coleen said. Even if they tried to stay clean, it was difficult to trust them. “Drugs make you a very good manipulator,” Coleen said. “One of the things they told us when Trevor was in rehab was ‘How do you know when a drug addict is lying?’” Kathy said. “Their lips are moving.” And regardless of where the boys went, unless they were chained to someone who was going to stop them from using, the urge and a supply was always close by. “I could have dropped Trevor off in the desert and he would have found drugs,” Kathy said.
Recovery offers hope
Trevor’s final stop was at Sees the Day recovery house in York, a group home for recovering addicts after they have gone through rehab. “Most of the guys there had alcohol problems, and I thought ‘This is good; he can’t be conniving with another heroin addict,’” Kathy said. Trevor worked hard at the recovery house. He was eventually named house president. It was a point of pride, but it came with a dangerous privilege: He was the one doing the drug testing. He got a job as an electrician and continued staying at the house; however, he needed transportation to get to work. Kathy and her husband were proud of Trevor. He had made tremendous progress and they could see what it meant to him to have come that far. They made arrangements to get Trevor a used car so he could go to work. “He picked up the car we bought him, and that night, I told him to call me when he got home” to the recovery house in York, she said. He didn’t call and she couldn’t get a hold of him. The next day, “I got a call from the guy who runs the facility, and he said Trevor was dead,” Kathy said. She later learned that on his way home, Trevor had stopped in Reading and picked up the heroin that would kill him. “He had money in his pocket and a vehicle,” Kathy said. “So on his way to recovery, he relapsed.”
The last time Coleen saw her son alive, she had spent the day with him. Since he went through rehab in June, he had gone back to being the boy she knew and loved so much. She remembered telling him, “I am your mother and I will worry about you every day.” She said he wasn’t acting himself. He had problems sleeping and told her he hadn’t slept well. When she left his apartment, Stephen said he was going to take a nap and asked her to call him later. When she called, she told him she loved him and that she would talk to him the next day. But she didn’t talk to him the next day. She didn’t hear from him and couldn’t reach him. A day and a half later, “everyone knew something was wrong.” Stephen had died in his apartment from a heroin overdose.
‘God gave us that time …’
Even though both boys knew their drugs well, they fell victim anyway. Kathy said she believes Trevor, incredibly intelligent and analytical, “was thinking ‘I understand this drug better’” than others who were killed by it. Stephen had medical books, and he understood the way overdoses often happen, Coleen said. A person gets addicted, and as they use a drug consistently, a larger amount of it is necessary to get the desired high. When a person goes through detox, their body loses sensitivity to the drug. When they relapse and take the same amount they did before detox, their body can’t handle it, and they die. “My son knew in his head what causes an overdose, and he’s dead,” Coleen said. Coleen said she is thankful her son was able to get clean before he died. “There’s a part of me that says God let my family have the Stephen we knew for two months,” she said. “We were at a wonderful place with our family.” Stephen was attending family functions and enjoying being around. “God gave us that time so when he passed away… we knew there was nothing else we could have done.” Kathy said the Christmas before Trevor passed away was “one of the best we’d had in many years because Trevor was clean. I thought things were going to go down a better path. “God gave us that time so we wouldn’t be so angry with him when he would falter again,” she said.
Wanting to help others
|(Photo by Kevin Hoffman/The Mercury) Kathy Mackie and Coleen Watchorn share a moment together talking about their sons.|
Even though Coleen and Kathy know they did all they could, moments of doubt still creep in, and moments of dread thinking about other parents out there who will face the same devastation are frequent. As the women talk, they find moments of laughter through their tears, thinking of the ridiculousness of addiction. They spoke of the “hierarchy” of drug users. “‘Oh, I don’t shoot up,’” Coleen said, quoting some opiate and heroin users who think they’re above those who use a needle. “It’s the same thing” no matter how you do it, Kathy said. “It will kill you.” Coleen said she put the coroner’s phone number in her cell phone after Stephen passed so she wouldn’t miss any calls while awaiting the toxicology results. They didn’t laugh because it was funny, they laughed, thick tears in their eyes, because they don’t know what else to do. They ask questions that are not easy to answer. “Why are we here now?” Kathy said. “Shouldn’t this have a happy ending?” “Here I am, a middle-class mom, with a middle-class family, doing middle-class things,” Coleen said. “Kathy and I say there has got to be a reason this happened because it doesn’t make sense.” After Trevor died, when Stephen was still alive, he would stop in and see the Mackies. “It was kind of like there was a little piece of Trevor alive in Stephen,” Kathy said. Now that both Trevor and Stephen are gone, the women hold fast to each other, and the hope they can tell their sons’ stories so they didn’t die in vain. “Catching people before they start” is key, Kathy said. “Once you start, it’s an uphill battle.” Coleen encouraged parents to “be smart enough to question the doctors. They’re not God.” Both women agreed that families, parents need to be aware that opiates and heroin are here in local communities. The drugs don’t care where you live, what you do for a living, or how badly you want to deny them. “Wake up people, it’s in your back yard,” Coleen said. “It’s in your bedroom.” “It’s in your medicine cabinet,” Kathy said. “If you think your kids might be using drugs, they probably are.”