Todd Clary’s 2019 Christmas present, a brand new telescope to study the stars, was delivered to his mom’s home four hours after he was found dead from ingesting Suboxone and vaping kratom, an accidental fatal cocktail.
Todd’s father, Mike Clary, of Pisgah Forest, reached out to The Transylvania Times after reading the Oct. 27 article, “Students hear about vaping dangers,” to share his son’s story and highlight what he said are the unknown dangers that can accompany vaping.
Todd, who was 34 years old, had just left a rehabilitation program and started taking Suboxone, a pharmaceutical medication to help him on his path to opioid addiction recovery. Six months following his death, his autopsy’s toxicology report revealed he died from the Suboxone in his system mixing with kratom which he had just vaped.
Kratom is an herbal extract derived from the leaves of an evergreen tree (Mitragyna speciosa) grown in Southeast Asia. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is sold as an energy booster, mood enhancer, pain reliever and antidote for opioid withdrawal which can cause serious health damage and adversely effect people who take it in combination with other substances.
“I thought if it helps one person avoid what happened to my son then that’s paying it forward a little bit,” Clary said of his reason to talk about his son. “He was a super-sweet kid. He was a super-giving and kind kid. Even as an addict, of all of my kids he was the one who asked about other people and cared about others more than himself. Unfortunately, he got hooked and he couldn’t beat the demons and they won. The one thing that kind of came out of this – that’s sort of resounding too – is when you go through something like this pretty much every family has a comparable story. That’s what’s scary.”
If young people are shown a firearm and a vape pen and asked to identify which is more dangerous, he said, “the thing is no one is going to even blink that the vape thing is not all that dangerous. But it is.”
“You don’t know what any of these things that are in these vape vials is going to do when it interacts with something else that might be ingested,” Clary said.
Vaping is the use of an e-cigarette or other type of device that heats a nicotine-containing liquid to produce an aerosol that is inhaled. It can be tampered with and other substances can be added.
“I think that’s one thing that people don’t necessarily know about vapes is that they can be kind of hacked pretty easily. You can take them apart and put different liquids in the e-juice container,” said Kristen Gentry, Transylvania County’s CARE Coalition’s program director.
The CARE Coalition works to reduce substance use disorder and misuse in Transylvania County by focusing on prevention, treatment and recovery.
“If you’re buying e-juice from the store, you don’t know exactly what chemicals are in it, for example, but you can be fairly certain that there wouldn’t be any THC, or fentanyl, or anything like that in there,” said Gentry. “However, some people can kind of mix and match and they can put things in there after market. That’s one of the dangers of vaping is the ability to tinker with it after market and to add to the e-juice or to tamper with the e-juice in some way – add flavoring, add substances, you name it.”
Clary said his son “was always suffering from anxiety.”
“I guarantee you that he got that particular cocktail of vape thing because it was marketed as an anti-anxiety vaping thing,” he said. “What he did not know is when he took the Suboxone for the first time that night, that taking that in combination in kratom was going to kill him.”
Todd started getting in trouble with drugs in high school and he’d be in and out of many programs in different states throughout his life.
He would disappear for months at a time with friends the family didn’t know.
Often he would call his dad when he needed money.
“This is what you deal with, with a drug addict,” said Clary. “You love them to death but at the same time, if you give into them, you’re not doing them any good.”
Clary spoke to his son five days before he died. He said it was the best conversation he’d had with him in years: “He sounded good — he sounded clear headed — he wasn’t slurring. The thing that resonates with me, though, is I said,‘Todd you sound really good.’ I said, ‘Stick with it, it sounds like you’re finally figuring it out.’ He said, ‘Dad I’m trying but I’m having a problem though in that I can’t find any joy in my life. I can’t feel happy.’ I said, ‘Son, that’s what opioids do.’ When you’re a parent of an addict, you research what’s going on with them. Opioids kill your brain’s ability to produce dopamine and dopamine is what makes you have the ability to have those experiences — of joy and glee.”
Clary said Todd needed to find a passion to find joy, and Todd said he had recently developed an interest in astronomy. Encouraged, Clary said he and his mother would buy him a telescope for Christmas, which was coming up.
Todd passed away at 34 years old on Dec. 11, 2019.
Although Clary has never liked the funeral ritual of an open casket, he asked to see Todd before he was cremated. He’s glad he did.
“It was the first time he looked like he was at peace,” he said. “It’s an awful thing to say that the only time your kid’s at peace is when he’s dead, but my brother and I have had the conversation before that maybe what’s horrific for us to even consider — maybe my son’s in a better spot now than where he was — because he was tortured the last years he was alive.”
The county has a number of resources for people struggling with addiction and resources for their family and loved ones, both in-person, by phone and virtual.
“We’ve been under the shroud of silence for too long,” said Gentry. “We’ve got to start talking about it, because people are not alone. As we always say, the opposite of addiction is connection, and I think that goes for people who’ve been effected by it as a family member or friend as well.”
The Western North Carolina Area of Narcotics Anonymous offers resources, including information on group meetings, call (866) 925-2148 or visit www.wncna.org.
The Alcoholics Anonymous North Carolina Central Office can be reached 24/7 at (828) 254-8539, for a meeting schedule visit www.aancmco.org or download the AA Meeting Guide app.
Al-Anon meetings, for family members affected by addiction, can be found at www.al-anon.org.
For information about quitting tobacco, including vaping, visit Quitline NC’s website at www.quitlinenc.dph.ncdhhs.gov, call (800) QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or text the letters VAPEFREE to the phone number 873373.
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