Bringing the Message Home
When you talk to Kirk Jonah about his son Jack’s death from a heroin overdose and his work to educate and inspire people since that fateful day, you don’t sense anger, frustration, bitterness, or even embarrassment — emotions that are all perfectly understandable and probably there somewhere.
No, all you see is determination, which is exactly what is needed as this region and this country continues to battle one of the worst epidemics in history — the opioid epidemic.
One can argue forever how we got to this point with this epidemic, one that is killing tens of thousands of people a year, and it’s clear there is plenty of blame to go around — from the makers of prescription painkillers to the doctors who prescribe them carelessly, to people young and old who take them irresponsibly. But what’s really needed now, in addition to treatment of those who are addicted, is plain, old-fashioned talk about the need for everyone — from parents to young people — to make smart decisions.
And that’s exactly what Jonah provides.
As the story on page 10 details, Jack Jonah and his family became statistics back in the spring of 2016, when Jack was found dead in his room of an apparent heroin overdose, a tragedy that seemed to come out of nowhere because there were no easily recognizable signs that he was using and abusing the drug.
Those statistics are related to the number of overdose deaths in this country, and statistics related to the number of families torn apart by such tragedies.
But Kirk Jonah was never content to be merely a statistic, and he wasn’t about to let his son become one, either.
Indeed, they have become so much more than that. They have become inspirations and, yes, leaders in the ongoing fight to stem the tide of substance abuse and overdose deaths by bringing others into the fight.
That’s what Kirk Jonah will tell you he does. He brings people into the fight by compelling them to recognize that choices have to be made, and they need to be smart ones.
These decisions involve everything from how and where parents should store their prescription drugs to whether and how young people should tell the parents or other loved ones of someone they know is on a collision course with tragedy about what they know.
This work started with speaking engagements before a wide variety of audiences — from smaller gatherings at schools to a huge audience at Mercy Hospital’s Caritas Gala — and it has expanded to a foundation and fundraising activities. Soon, there will be a movie made about Jack Jonah, his family, and the work to prevent more tragedies like this.
The working title, from what we’ve gathered, is Making Courage Contagious, which is exactly what Kirk — and Jack — have been doing over the past three years.
A key part of Kirk Jonah’s presentations to the groups he addresses is the death certificate mailed to him several weeks after son’s death. It’s a powerful document, especially when one focuses on the words written above the cause-of-death line: acute heroin intoxication.
Those are words that, as we said at the top, should induce anger, frustration, and embarrassment. What they’ve produced instead is determination — as in determination not to let another parent receive a similar piece of mail.
At this time of crisis and epidemic, that’s what this region, and this country, needs most.