Lori Lewis never imagined losing her 23-year-old son to a heroin overdose. But on July 10, 2014, her oldest son, Ryan, lost his battle with addiction, and his family’s lives were changed forever. Lori, who has worked at HealthPartners and Regions Hospital for nearly 16 years, hopes to ensure that other families will never have to endure the same kind of heartache and pain.

Lori says there are six very dangerous words: “This will never happen to me.” This is what she thought. This is what her family thought – and even more so, this is what Ryan thought. “It happens to the best of kids and adults,” Lori says. “Even with your family morals, school and athletics, don’t think this can’t happen to you.”

Ryan’s substance abuse began with marijuana during the end of his junior year at Tartan High School in 2008. Ryan – who was creative, intelligent, energetic and passionate about music and art – soon entered a 30-day outpatient treatment program. He returned to finish school 30 days later and went on to graduate in 2009.

A few years later, Ryan ended up in the ER, and they found opiates and benzos in his system. Lori learned he had taken her leftover pain medications from a previous back surgery. All she could think was, “How could this happen? We talked openly about everything.”

Ryan soon moved home, but over the months, became increasingly angry and irritated. Oddly, he was starting to have flu-like symptoms in the mornings that disappeared by afternoon. Then one day, Lori discovered a syringe in the dryer. Her son, who used to cry when getting his flu shot, was using heroin. As a nurse, Lori couldn’t believe she didn’t recognize the signs. (The flu-like symptoms, for example, were signs of withdrawal.)

Over the next several months, Ryan went through inpatient and outpatient treatment while living at home with his parents and three younger siblings. Getting better. And relapsing. It became a cycle. “As parents we were at our wit’s end, exhausted and in need of help for our son,” Lori says.

Following his fourth inpatient stay in a year, Lori’s husband dropped Ryan off at a residential treatment home for what would become the last time. Lori’s husband recalls telling his son, “We’re going to get through this together, Ryan. We can do it.” A few days later, Lori received a call from the police. Ryan had died from an overdose that morning.

Though time has gone by, it still does not change the pain or loss. Lori believes the void in their lives will always be there, and she hopes that by sharing Ryan’s story, she will be able to help save other parents from feeling they have somehow failed their child.

“I know the face of addiction has changed. It can be any one of us. No one chooses to become addicted. We need to end the stigma, help communities recognize the problem, educate ourselves and support people that suffer from this disease.”

Children or seniors, teens or adults — mental and chemical health issues can affect anyone at any time. If you or someone you know needs help fighting addiction, we can help.