4 out of 4 stars
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Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts: Fentanyl, the Killer by Sylvia Abolis Mennear is a true story based on the tragic drug overdose of her son, Aaron, at age 30. On April 19, 2017, mum Sylvia goes to rouse Aaron from his bedroom only to find him stone cold. He has been dead for hours. In these opening paragraphs, we meet the Mennear family in the most horrific way possible as they discover their much-loved son and brother this way.
We read Aaron's own account of a terrible skiing injury he suffers three years earlier in January 2014, where he breaks his tibia in six places and sustains other serious damage to his left leg. Despite months of rehabilitation, he aims to compete in the ABBA Northern Body Building Contest, which he does in May 2015, an extraordinary effort from a determined young man. During his recovery, a wheelchair-bound Aaron stays with his parents for a long period. During this time, Silvia begins thinking her son might be taking more pain medication than necessary. But no matter what she says, he doesn't want to listen. What the family doesn't know is that Aaron has had a drug problem for a very long time...
This is an emotionally powerful book written by a grieving mother mourning the death of her son. She says Aaron was a lovely boy who grew into a caring young man. It is also insightful to have notes and descriptions included in Aaron's own words. His terrible drug addiction begins with ecstasy in high school and progresses to cocaine and heroin, continuing all through his twenties. Despite his parents urging all three of their sons to come to them with any problems, an ashamed Aaron tries to deal with his drug problem on his own. His parents never know until it is too late.
Sylvia includes information on drug overdose deaths and the effects of steroids, cocaine, heroin, and fentanyl, all used by Aaron. In British Columbia, Canada, where the Mennears live, there were 914 illicit drug overdose deaths with fentanyl recorded from January to September 2017. This was 147% higher than the 370 for the same period in 2016. Fentanyl was recorded in 83% of all illicit drug overdose deaths for this period, compared to just 4% back in 2012. Between 2015 and 2017, illicit drug overdose deaths overtook suicides, motor vehicle accidents and homicides as the most common unnatural deaths in British Columbia. These statistics brought home the seriousness of the problem for me, as I could see it was not just a grieving mother making something out of nothing.
The chapter by Aaron's girlfriend, Shauna, who helps him deal with terrible withdrawal symptoms when doctors cut him off from opioid drugs, is gut-wrenching in its reality. She describes weaning him off his "come-down" drug Dilaudid, having to hide it from him, and feeling more like his mother than his girlfriend. I also found it touching that Aaron wanted to help others get off Fentanyl. He lost some friends to it before his own death, and began planning a program he called LIFESAVERS. His handwritten notes considered all aspects, from focus, website, advertising, phone numbers, etc. Unfortunately, he never got the chance to launch his initiative.
There were only a handful of minor issues with this book for me, mostly formatting and a few typographical errors. For neatness, I would recommend using full justification for the text, not left justification. Also, the contents page lists sections but is missing the page numbers for those sections. Other than that, I found only five examples of missing punctuation or words truncated by a line break. I did not pick out errors from Aaron's sections or other items because Silvia left these unedited intentionally.
Given the powerful story and relevant information included by Silvia in Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts, I rate it 4 out of 4 stars despite the minor errors. The author includes useful detail about illicit drugs and their effects, a copy of the coroner's report for Aaron, and notes from both Aaron and his girlfriend Shauna about his experiences. Her research makes it clear that the problem of illicit drug deaths in British Columbia is worsening at an alarming rate. I would recommend this book to all parents of children around their teens or anyone else affected by a drug problem. Just be warned: it is a heart-wrenching emotional journey. We all like to think this couldn't happen to us, but Sylvia and her family are living proof it could happen to anyone.
Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts
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