By 1010WINS.com Reporter Rebecca Granet
NEW YORK — “I’ll be home soon.”
Valerie Labiak has those words saved in her phone. They are the last words her son texted to her before fatally overdosing on the Long Island Rail Road.
Sitting in her Bellmore, Long Island home, surrounded by pictures of her son Michael, Valerie remembers better times and shares her son’s high school stories. He was a three-sport athlete, captain of his soccer team sophomore year, and a member of the National Honor Society.
“If this could happen to him, this could happen to anybody, because he was a perfect kid really, until this happened,” Valerie said.
In less than 10 months, heroin entered Michael’s life, and killed him. But his struggle with addiction didn’t begin with that drug. Like many teens, Valerie says his transition to college was a difficult one. Michael battled depression, trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He was in and out of school, and smoking some marijuana. But in 2012, he underwent surgery and was introduced to prescription pain medication. Two years later, his parents learned that he was abusing the pills.
“It was his last visit before he would have entered the police academy…but he failed the drug test, so that’s kind of when he had to come and tell us that there was a problem,” Valerie said.
Michael was using OxyContin. He began outpatient treatment and detox, but Valerie says she never realized abusing prescription opioids could lead to a heroin habit so seamlessly.
“When you put them into a detox or a program, obviously they’re [the patients] all talking amongst themselves so they learn a lot,” Valerie said. “They learn a lot about other things…other ways of obtaining drugs, so it’s a good thing and a bad thing sometimes. So he became aware of the fact that heroin was much, much cheaper than OxyContin, and that’s the course that he ended up turning to.”
Now on heroin, Michael was living in the shadows of his former life. That is until his father found a syringe outside the family home.
“As soon as I knew we had a problem, I reached out to people to try to figure out what we could do as parents because this was completely foreign to us,” Valerie said. “We had no idea how to handle this. So we started going to a support group weekly, listened mostly, and cried, and eventually [we] were able to start talking about what was going on.”
Like so many addicts, Michael stole to support his habit. After getting arrested, he traveled to California to live with his sister. It was there that he was introduced to Vivitrol, a monthly injection that blocks the effects of opioids on the body. Michael was scheduled for his next shot the day after he came back to the East Coast for a court appearance. But Valerie says she didn’t realize that he needed prior authorization from his insurance, so he was denied access to the medication.
“I think it took eight or nine days to get the authorization and at that point it was too late,” she said.
Michael overdosed. His father found him lying on the bathroom floor and used Narcan to reverse the effects of the drug and save his son’s life. When Michael came back home, he started another detox. But Valerie says the facility didn’t believe in medication-assisted treatment, so he didn’t receive his Vivitrol shot. After the detox, Michael was supposed to go into a long-term treatment program, but he never made it.
“Friday night [December 2014] we were home, we had dinner together…he left to go smoke [a cigarette]…when he didn’t come back after a couple of minutes, I looked outside and I didn’t see him,” Valerie said. “So I texted him.”
This is the last conversation Valerie would ever have with her son.
Michael took the 10:02 LIRR from Jamaica station and never came home. Valerie says his overdose to death was over in 34 minutes. He was 26 years old.
“I just miss him,” Valerie said through tears. “I miss his hugs and he would always say ‘I love you’ before we hung up the phone or if he was leaving. Always. I miss that.”
Today, Valerie shares her family’s journey with those who will listen, and she has a message for parents whose children are battling addiction.
“I say don’t give up, because I would have fought forever for my son.”