After their teenage sons overdose houses and hours apart, parents fight to prevent other deaths

Dustin Manning was in high spirits the night before he died.

The 19-year-old, who was getting ready for a weekend away with his girlfriend, was in the midst of deciding what he wanted to do in life after getting his GED.

He was also working hard to battle his addiction to opioids. He'd been attending meetings between three and four times a week, committing to spend time with his new sponsor and was working on improving his diet.

In fact, the random drug test his mother and father made him take on the night of May 25 came back clean.

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Opioid and drug crisis in America
Discarded needles are seen at a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 7, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is knowen, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. Known by locals as El Campanento, the open air drug market and heroin encampment is built with the discarded materials from the gulch and populated by addicts seeking a hit of heroin to keep their dope sick, or withdrawal symptoms, at bay. In one area, near the 2nd Avenue overpass, empty syringe wrappers blanket the refuse like grass the used needles they once contained poking through like thistles. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man leans against the wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Family members of those who died of opioid overdoses attend the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on at the National Mall on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: A man rests against a wall appearing to be under the influence of drugs on a street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: Brian smokes a synthetic drug called K2 on the street in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 07: 'Surfer' shoots heroin in a park in the South Bronx on June 7, 2017 in New York City. Like Staten Island, parts of the Bronx are experiencing an epidemic in drug use, especially heroin and other opioid based drugs. More than 1,370 New Yorkers died from overdoses in 2016, the majority of those deaths involved opioids. The Mott Haven-Hunts Point area of the Bronx borough of New York currently leads the city in heroin overdose deaths. According to the Deputy Attorney General, drug overdose are now the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
Quincy Massachusetts Police Detective Lt. Patrick Glynn holds a nasal injection containing the overdose-reversing drug naloxone at the police headquarters in Quincy, Mass., June 13, 2014. Quincy, Massachusetts, in 2010 became the first U.S. city to make the drug standard equipment for its police officers, who have used it to reverse some 275 overdoses, a significant number in a city of 93,000 people. Police forces nationwide are starting to follow suit. The state program has now moved far beyond police, training some 25,747 people in Massachusetts how to recognize the signs of opioid drug overdoses and administer naloxone. June 13, 2014. REUTERS/Gretchen Ertl (UNITED STATES - Tags: DRUGS SOCIETY HEALTH CRIME LAW)
A woman suspected of acting under the influence of heroine shows arms to police on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for smoking and injecting drugs is seen after it was found during a police search on April 19, 2017, in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Paraphernalia for injecting drugs is seen after being found during a police search on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Jessica, a homeless heroin addict, shows her kit of clean needles, mixing cap and tourniquet in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. 80 percent of us want to get out,' said Jessica, before outlining the numerous ways she has tried to get treatment for her addiction. In one case, she said, there weren't any available beds. In another, a treatment provider required a positive drug test before delivering aid, meaning if she hadn't used recently she'd be denied. Instead of getting treatment, she spends her nights trying to keep warm on a mattress under a bridge, the very spot where she was raped and infected with HIV. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
Drug paraphernalia and other garbage litter a vacant house on April 19, 2017 in Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington, the city in the northwest corner of West Virginia, bordering Kentucky, has been portrayed as the epicenter of the opioid crisis. On August 15, 2016, from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, 28 people in the city overdosed on heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more powerful and dangerous than heroin. The economic incentives are powerful: one kilogram of fentanyl costs $5,000, which can make a million tablets sold at $20 each for a gain of $20 million. 'This epidemic doesn't discriminate,' Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said. 'Our youngest overdose was 12 years old. The oldest was 77.' / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Heather SCOTT, US-health-drugs-WestVirginia (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A man injects himself in the foot with heroin near a heroin encampmentin the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia's opioid epidemic. At the camp, and throughout the nearby area, a user can buy a bag of high-grade heroin at a low price and even pay to have another person inject them if for any reason they are unable to inject themselves. For several individuals, the addiction process was a slow one that started with a doctor's prescription for pain pills after an accident or surgery, and by the time the medication was finished, a dependency was born. After seeking black-market pills to feed their addiction, the simple economics of heroin won out: the price of a single pill could fetch anywhere between 2 and 10 bags of heroin, a savings that's hard to ignore when an insurance company is no longer underwriting the cost. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Michael Botticelli, U.S. National Drug Control Policy Director, speaks at the 'Fed Up!' rally to end the opioid epidemic on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Activists and family members of people who have died in the opioid and heroin epidemic gathered on the National Mall to march to the Capitol Building. Some 30,000 people die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton. Speakers called for Congress to provide $1.1 billion for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
A man uses a syringe to gather the last drops from a scavenged water bottle to mix up a shot of heroin near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia?s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. People come from throughout the city, and some as far away as the Midwest, for heroin that is remarkably cheap and pure at the largest heroin market on the East coast. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
A Philadelphia Police officer patrols under a bridge near a heroin encampment in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on April 14, 2017. In North Philadelphia, railroad gulch as it is known, is ground zero in Philadelphia��s opioid epidemic. The tracks and the surrounding property are owned and operated by the Consolidated Rail Corporation, a joint subsidiary of Norfolk Southern and CSX. Last month, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney announced citations against the Consolidated Rail Corporation for what the mayor, in a release, said was Conrail's failure to clean and secure their own property.' Visitors and homeless residents of the gulch say the trash isn't their fault, and that they are only there because they have nowhere else to go. According to the city Health Commission, Philadelphia is on track to see 33 percent more drug overdose deaths in 2017 over last year. / AFP PHOTO / DOMINICK REUTER (Photo credit should read DOMINICK REUTER/AFP/Getty Images)
SANFORD, ME - FEBRUARY 16: Milo Chernin, who lost her son Sam to a heroin overdose on Jan. 16, 2017, looks at photos at her home in Sanford. She says that Sam, who died at age 25, struggled with his addiction and could not stay away from heroin despite getting treatment. (Photo by Derek Davis/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 18: Activists and family members of loved ones who died in the opioid/heroin epidemic take part in a 'Fed Up!' rally at Capitol Hill on September 18, 2016 in Washington, DC. Protesters called on legistlators to provide funding for the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which Congress passed in July without funding. Some 30,000 Americans die each year due to heroin and painkiller pill addiciton in the United States. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: A box of the opioid antidote Naloxone, also known as Narcan, sits on display during a family addiction support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The drug is used to revive people suffering from heroin overdose. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 23: A heroin user injects himself on March 23, 2016 in New London, CT. Communities throughout New England and nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
GROTON, CT - MARCH 23: Family members of people addicted heroin and opioid pain pills share stories during a support group on March 23, 2016 in Groton, CT. The group Communities Speak Out organizes monthly meetings at a public library for family members to talk about how their loved ones' addiction affects them and to give each other emotional support. Communities nationwide are struggling with the unprecidented heroin and opioid pain pill epidemic. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide, in an effort to curb the epidemic. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
NEW LONDON, CT - MARCH 14: Jackson, 27, who said he is addicted to prescription medication, lies passed out in a public library on March 14, 2016 in New London, CT. Police say an increasing number of suburban addicts are coming into the city to buy heroin, which is much cheaper than opioid painkillers. On March 15, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), announced guidelines for doctors to reduce the amount of opioid painkillers prescribed nationwide. The CDC estimates that most new heroin addicts first became hooked on prescription pain medication before graduating to heroin, which is stronger and cheaper. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)
ST. JOHNSBURY, VT - FEBRUARY 06: 'Buck' who is 23 and addicted to heroin, shoots up Suboxone, a maintenance drug for opioid dependence that is also highly addictive on February 6, 2014 in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin recently devoted his entire State of the State speech to the scourge of heroin. Heroin and other opiates have begun to devastate many communities in the Northeast and Midwest leading to a surge in fatal overdoses in a number of states. As prescription painkillers, such as the synthetic opiate OxyContin, become increasingly expensive and regulated, more and more Americans are turning to heroin to fight pain or to get high. Heroin, which has experienced a surge in production in places such as Afghanistan and parts of Central America, has a relatively inexpensive street price and provides a more powerful affect on the user. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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“I think part of both of us was surprised; we were really thinking it would come back positive, but Dustin was extremely happy, [saying] ‘I told you! I told you!’ It was just a really good evening,” Dustin’s mother, Lisa Manning, told InsideEdition.com.

Before going to bed, he spent quality time with his brother and parents.

“He had asked me beforehand, ‘I want to fix something a little better for lunch [tomorrow] before work, mind waking me a little bit earlier?’ I said ‘Sure, I’ll get you up around 5:30 [a.m.] or 6 and we’ll go from there,” his father, Greg, said.

Dustin said goodnight to his father around midnight and called his girlfriend. They chatted until about 1:30 a.m.

The timeline after that becomes less clear, but officials said Dustin had probably been dead about four hours when Greg found him in his room the next morning.

“I had woken up at 1:41 [a.m.] that night — I think that’s when he took his last breath. I believe that,” his mother tearfully recalled.

Dustin had taken a lethal mix of heroin and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid so strong that even coming into contact with the substance can prove deadly.

“It was the equivalent of three grains of salt,” Lisa said. “So potent, within 20 seconds he was gone.”

Greg attempted to save his son by using two doses of Narcan, a medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose if administered in time, and called Lisa, who was at the gym. He dialed 911 at 6:09 a.m.

Paramedics rushed to the scene, but Dustin could not be saved.

“The EMTs left the house... and we had two policemen outside,” Lisa said. “I was talking to the policeman when the second one said, ‘There’s been another one.’”

Half a mile down the road in Lawrenceville, a suburb outside Atlanta, another young man had overdosed.

***

Like Greg Manning had done less than an hour earlier, Kathi and Dave Abraham found their son slumped over in his room during the early hours of May 26.

And like Dustin, 18-year-old Joseph Abraham had spent a blissfully normal night, devoid of any drama or setbacks, at home before his death.

“He worked all day doing landscaping, came home... I went up [to bed] at 11 o’clock and he was just sitting there watching TV; I just gave him a hug, told him I loved him and he asked me to get him up for work the next day,” Dave Abraham said.

But Dave knew immediately that something was wrong when he opened his son’s door that morning.

“I went into his room and it was a pretty bad situation,” he said. “I could tell there was something wrong right off the bat. I started yelling his name and I didn’t see any movement.”

Kathi, who had been in the shower when the commotion started, ran out in her bathrobe as Dave tried to rouse Joe.

“I said, ‘This is real bad,’” Dave remembered.

They called 911 at 6:53 a.m. Police arrived almost immediately.

“Within 30 seconds, there’s a cop at the door,” Dave said. “I said, ‘Wow that was quick,’ and the officer said, ‘You know Dustin Manning?’ I said yeah, and he said, ‘Well, he’s in the same condition.’”

Like Dustin, Joseph suffered a fatal overdose. Kathi noted her son’s autopsy found methamphetamine morphine — and the deadly substance, fentanyl — in his system.

“Our boys didn’t have a chance.”  

***

Dustin Manning and Joseph Abraham had a lot in common.

They grew up in the same town, played on the same Little League team and came from supportive, loving families.

And they both started down the path of addiction at a very young age, their parents said.

Joseph was first exposed to opioids as a preteen, while recovering from a painful wisdom teeth removal and separately from two major ear surgeries, Kathi and Dave said.

“Even before he got into eighth grade, he had to have his ear rebuilt and had two, three-hour-long surgeries,” Dave said. “After that, [doctors] gave him liquid hydrocodone.”

Around the same time, Joseph lost two close friends in tragedies no middle schooler should have to endure.

“A girl who lived in the neighborhood died from a brain tumor, and soon thereabout another friend at school drowned,” Kathi said. “It was just a lot for him to take on emotionally. He was very sensitive and I think he had begun to question God in his life.”

It wasn’t long before Joseph began drinking, smoking marijuana and buying pain pills off the street. Then, he turned to heroin.

Dustin also struggled throughout his youth.

When he was 12, he told his parents he was depressed, and soon after turned to alcohol and drugs — first marijuana, then prescriptions stolen from his family — to help with the pain.

Their son was about 16 years old when Lisa and Greg realized he had a problem.

“That summer, we were going to a family event and my husband... he suspected Dustin was maybe on something,” Lisa said. “Greg confronted him and he finally admitted it. He had been doing stuff for years and we didn’t know it. He was really good at hiding it.”

As a teen athlete with a full social calendar, much of Dustin’s time was taken up at either baseball or football practice. But he managed to juggle afterschool activities with a deadly hobby.

“We just thought he came home worn out from practice,” Greg said. “We didn’t see the signs.”

The boys hadn’t remained close as they grew older, but they occasionally commiserated over their shared struggles.

“Dustin, he would tell me, ‘Joe kind of understands where I’m at... Joe kind of understands what I deal with on a depression basis,’” Greg said. “’Joe really kind of understands.’”

And it appeared they may have bought the drugs that killed them from the same dealer, they said.

“The packaging was so similar,” Lisa said.

She noted that authorities are confident they know who supplied the drugs, but there is not enough evidence to make an arrest.

“We still don’t know when they got it,” Lisa said. “That will never be answered.”

***

Both the Mannings and the Abrahams set out to help their children fight their addictions.

They sought help from treatment centers and held their breath when their children would return from month-long programs meant to undo years of substance abuse. They drove their children to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings and watched closely for signs of relapse. And through it all, they kept their sons’ battles quiet.

“That was part of the problem,” Dave said. “We should’ve probably walked down [to the Mannings] and teamed up and come up with a solution. Instead we kept our doors closed. That’s not going to work. There are too many kids dying.”

One in 10 kids from the ages of 12 to 17 currently uses illicit drugs, according to a 2014 government survey.

The survey did not poll children under the age of 12, but some authorities suggest that kids are now being exposed to addictive substances at an even younger age.

“Detectives in our area said the average age kids are beginning to dabble in any kind of drug is 9 years old,” Kathi said. “I’m an elementary school teacher. I look around at my fourth and fifth grade students — that’s them.”

The Mannings and Abrahams are no longer silent about the suffering they have endured. They said addressing the stigma connected to drug addiction and creating programs in school that address the risks children face are vital in fighting the opioid epidemic.  

“We stuck our heads in the sand,” Kathi said. “As parents, we struggled [in the beginning] with, ‘Is this normal adolescent experimentation, or is my child an addict?’ No parent wants to go that route.

“Once [Joseph died] we were like, ‘Everybody needs to know what was going on,” she continued. “As we begun to speak out more, people have come and confided in us. [They say] ‘You wouldn’t believe this,’ or ‘this is happening in my family.’”

And in the seven months since they lost their son, they haven't kept quiet.

Kathi and Dave have met with officials within the school system in Gwinnett County about upgrading their counseling departments and health resources. They have also created a scholarship in honor of Joseph at the local technical school that will go to a person in recovery and have partnered with Navigate Recovery Gwinnett to help those who can’t afford the entry fees into sober living facilities.

The family organized a golf tournament in honor of their son and has also taken to raising money for the cause through the sale of bright green bracelets. The words “#honorjoe” are scrawled across the bands.

“We just want to find our ways,” Kathi said.

Lisa and Greg are also working to keep other children from suffering the same fate as their son. They plan to one day open a non-profit recovery center specifically geared toward young people.

“They just don’t have those places around,” Lisa said.

Their center would also incorporate an addict’s family in the recovery process, requiring a level of involvement they said they rarely saw when they sought help for Dustin.

“It’s important we make families aware — they have to be involved,” she continued.

Lisa has also made it a priority to reach out to schools in the area to share her son’s and Joseph’s story in the hopes that it will help save another’s life.

“Lisa tells the story of Dustin and Joe and it resonates with them,” Greg said.

This includes children in elementary school, she said.

“I spoke to 150 cheerleaders in June... third and fourth graders, I had them crying, asking me questions, giving me hugs when I was done,” Lisa said. “They got it.”

And throughout it all, the Mannings and the Abrahams have looked toward each other for support.

“As horrible as it sounds, I’m glad that we have another family we can talk to – they’re going through the same exact thing we are,” Lisa said. “We knew Kathi and Dave, [but] since this whole incident, we do talk more and text each other and check on each other. It’s nice to have someone... you might be having a really bad day and nobody gets it, but Kathi and Dave would.”

***

Seven months have passed since life as they knew it ended for the Mannings and the Abrahams.

Some days are easier than others, but the loss is always there.

“You never know how you’re going to wake up and be,” Kathi said. “I think I’m still in shock. The reality hasn’t quite struck me yet. It’s really difficult. Your friends still want you to go out to dinner and some days, we wake up and we can’t even move.”

She and Dave suffer from grief bursts that can strike at any moment, prompted by the smallest of details.

“I’ll be driving along and anything can trigger tears,” Kathi said. “I was walking a couple weeks ago, looking at the pumpkins [along the road] and I cried for 45 minutes because Joseph loved Halloween and decorating.”

For Dave, moments alone in his car have brought him closer to his son, he said.

“Joe used to work for me,” he said. “I do vending — it’s a small business — and Joe, he always rode with me. I just pretend he’s still in there in the passenger seat, listening to talk radio with me. He’s still with me; that’s something we have to believe. If we don’t believe that, life’s just a cruel joke, isn’t it?”

The Abrahams said they have come to accept the surges of grief as a part of life now.

“I’ll be at the fitness center, at the gym, having a normal day and something comes over you and it wipes you out,” Greg said.

Lisa agreed, saying: “It used to be that I thought about it minute-by-minute. I’m getting where I’m day-by-day. I think about him constantly, but there are some days where I break down for no reason. Nothing sparks it.”

Their loss fuels their mission to make others aware of the epidemic taking hold of the country, they said.

“Once you go through this, you don’t want anyone else to have to go through it,” Dave said. “The amount of people affected—it’s [equal to] a plane crash every day in our country. And all the grief that it causes — it ripples through the community.”

If you or someone you know is affected addiction or the issues addressed in this article, the families of Joseph and Dustin suggest visiting Faces & Voices of Recovery or the National Alliance for Recovery Residences to find a local organized recovery community, and Facing Addiction for resource for those seeking help or information regarding any aspect of prevention, treatment or recovery.

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