Generation Heroin: Mom Lost Her Son, Now Works To Save Others

(CBS) — Caroline Kacena can’t believe where her life has led her.

“I’m still flabbergasted this has become my volunteer life,” she said.

On this day inside a small room at Wheatland Salem Church in Naperville, she’s training parents and health care providers how to use Narcan, an opiate antidote that reverses the affects of an overdose.

Caroline Kacena (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

Caroline Kacena (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

If only, she says, she had access to this in 2012, the day her son, John, died.

“My son only overdosed once and it was a fatal one.”

John Kacena was a bright, athletic, teenager at Nequa Valley High School who was involved in sports and for the most part, seemed happy and healthy.

“My son played hockey. He was involved in Scouts. I did everything I thought was the right thing to do as a mom. I even coached his Little League team. We were very involved in their lives.”

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Kacena says she didn’t think anything was wrong with her son.

“Parents don’t often recognize the signs. Often times, they are subtle signs. Are they sleeping a lot more? Is there a dip in their grades? Are they more secretive? Well, these also coincide with your kids growing up. By the time you see the real outcome of drug addiction, it’s too late. They are already deeply into addiction.”

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John Kacena |Courtesy of Caroline Kacena

Kacena looks back and remembers changes between junior and senior years. John died only six months after they discovered his addiction.

“I didn’t realize my son had gotten caught up with heroin until he got arrested. We were completely unaware. We bailed him out which was the wrong thing to do,” she says, shaking her head.

After John’s death, Kacena decided to make it her mission to teach other parents about what to look for, and how to use a new drug designed to counteract the affects of an opiate overdose.

“I went on a mission to make sure that every suburban family who has to struggle with this situation has access to this life saving drug.”

Naloxone will soon be offered over the counter without a prescription at Walgreen’s.

Caroline Kacena (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

Caroline Kacena (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

“The more the Naloxone, the better,” says Mike Nerheim, Lake County States Attorney. He was integral in getting the drug in the hands of those who need it most.

“You can’t get someone into treatment if they’re dead.”

Now, most police officers have been trained and have used it on the front lines to save those who’ve overdosed.

“Right now we have to focus on saving lives. That’s how bad this is. We’ve made over 72 saves with police so far. Having it out there, having it available has saved lives,” said Nerheim.

“The risk of dying of an overdose isn’t exactly serving as a deterrent so let’s save a life, let’s get people into treatment and move on from there.”

For Kacena, she can’t help think about “what if”.

“What would have happened if I had Narcan that night? If my son told me to check on him? If I walked in and had my Narcan, would he be in recovery now?”

Narcan (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

Narcan (Credit: Lisa Fielding)

She says more people need to know about Narcan and know how to use it.

“Does it offer some false sense of security? Maybe but what is the alternative? The alternative is you have a dead kid. I would rather have a live kid who has another chance.”

Kacena says she’ll continue arming parents with information and the life saving tools they need in honor of her son, who didn’t get another chance.

“My son didn’t want to be a heroin addict. It’s crazy how many kids don’t know what they are doing,” she said. “I would do anything to have my kid back, but if this had to happen, I want to make sure his life had some purpose and meaning and his death had some purpose and meaning as well.”

RELATED: This is the fourth in a series. Click here for the rest.

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