When Tane Shannon’s son got to high school, she let him know during frank conversations that cracking open a beer with friends might come with risks he couldn’t imagine.
Mick Shannon wasn’t the kind of kid to chase trouble. He was a handsome, athletic boy growing up in Hall County. Smart and able to make friends easily, Mick was on track to do anything he wanted to do in life. But alcoholism had popped up on both sides of the family, and Tane Shannon warned her son about even a little high school partying. She warned her two daughters, too.
“I did hound them about alcohol because that scared me — I wanted them to know,” she said.
She didn’t think to warn her son a few years later, though, when doctors prescribed powerful pain killers after surgeries to repair shoulder injuries from his years playing high school football.
“I never thought to have that conversation with my kids about pain pills,” she said. “Their doctor was giving it to them. I thought they had my child’s best interests at heart, and I’m sure they did.”
Later, though, Tane and her husband, Mike, learned how life-changing an exposure to opioids can be. Their son came home during his senior year in college and broke down. He admitted an addiction to opioids that escalated to heroin. Sobbing, he fell into his parents’ arms, telling them he was afraid and shocked at where addiction had taken him. He asked his parents for help.
“We had the kind of relationship as a family where, if you tell me what’s going on, I’m going to help you,” Mike Shannon said.
Mike, who is an optometrist, knew that opioids could be dangerous. But he’d checked in with his son during his recoveries from surgery and didn’t see any red flags. While he replayed the scenes and wondered what else he could have done, the family went to work, putting everything into solving their son’s addiction.
Mick detoxed at home with his parents by his side, day and night. It was horrible. But he did it. His parents then got him rehab, arriving to see a bunch of other college kids in button-down shirts and short haircuts, many of whom also first got opioids from a doctor.
During one heart-to-heart while Mick was in rehab, he shared with his father that the painkillers turned into something else for him after his second surgery. “He said ‘No matter what was going on in my life, I could take that pill and it would make things better,’” Mike said.
Mick dedicated himself to rehab, but relapsed, admitted it, went back to rehab and got back on track. He enrolled in college , wanting to finish his last semester.
Then, this May, his mother got the call. It was a Wednesday, and she was on her way to church. Mick had overdosed. Their sweet son was dead at 26. Later, they learned Mick got a batch of heroin laced with fentanyl.
Tane felt her entire community grieving with her family. The funeral home was overwhelmed with friends. Many had also been touched by addictions and overdoses — or would be. The emergency room at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Hall County saw 696 overdose patients in 2016, up from 281 the year before.
The week he died, Mick’s diploma arrived. He had graduated from college with honors.
Tane and Mike were open with friends and family about their son’s disease when he was in recovery and continue sharing their story now. They hope that hearing Mick’s story will help erase the stigma around drug addiction and help people understand that addiction is a disease, like diabetes or cancer.
Tane does not blame her son’s doctors or pharmacists. But she wants every doctor to consider risks of addiction when prescribing an opioid. “I’m not saying anything negative about them, but what I am saying is it needs to change because it’s so obvious that this is not the right approach,” she said.
The couple move forward each day. They have two daughters and two grandchilden. They know their son would be proud of them for telling his story.
But the worst day of their lives is still fresh in their minds. One memory: seeing Mick just before his death and thinking he was doing so well, quickly followed by his father’s awful drive to his son’s apartment, where his body was loaded into a hearse.
“Part of my soul left with him,” Mike Shannon said. “I still feel him every day.”
“It’s just the worst absolute thing in the world, losing a child and knowing permanently you are changed down to your DNA,” he said. “So many people are going through this right now. We’re not the only ones. When I think about myself, I think about the other people are going through the same reality — daily.”