EXCHANGE: Man's struggle with heroin ends with sorrow

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QUINCY, Ill. (AP) — Anita Martinez knew her son's battle with drug addiction wasn't over, but for the first time in a long time there were signs that her little boy might be winning the battle.

Joseph Martinez's life was on track. Homeless less than two years ago, Martinez had a place to call his own, living in an apartment building near Quincy's downtown. He had a steady job as a waiter. He was right with his religion after being baptized on Easter weekend.

Martinez had reconnected with family, going on a vacation to Arkansas with his entire family in June. He was a proud father of a 6-year-old boy and got to spend that sixth birthday with him earlier this year.

Without warning, a scene that Anita Martinez knew could happen played out on July 12. Joseph failed to show up for work that day. Anita's calls were going right to voice mail, which was never a good sign.

"The only time it did that in the past he was in jail or hiding out," Anita Martinez said.

She made a frantic 30-minute drive from her residence in Barry to try to find her son. When she arrived at his apartment, she found her son dead in his apartment. Joseph Martinez, just 28 years old, had died of a heroin overdose. His years long battle against drugs was over, ending in the worst possible way for his family.

"He couldn't break away from it," Anita Martinez said.

Martinez was one of three people in Quincy who died of a confirmed heroin overdose during the month of July. Paul Davis, chief of Adams County EMS, said his department usually responds to three or four overdose calls per month.

This summer, the number of overdose calls were off the charts. Davis said the department saw an uptick in June before EMS responded to 30 confirmed heroin overdoses over the next two months, including a high of 19 during July. The uptick in deaths in Adams County followed a national trend. In July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that deaths from heroin-related overdoses nearly quadrupled between 2002 and 2013. The report showed that use of the drug among women and people between the ages of 18 and 25 had doubled during that time span.

Local officials believe the spike in overdoses can be traced to a more-potent batch of the drug that was circulating at the time of the deaths. During a community forum on the heroin problem held earlier this month, Patrick Frazier, leader of the Quincy-based West Central Illinois Task Force, said that the heroin was cut with a synthetic painkiller called fentanyl.

In March, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued a nationwide alert about heroin being laced with fentanyl. The DEA said the drug was a "significant threat to public health and safety."

More than 1,000 people in major metropolitan areas of Chicago, Detroit and Philadelphia died from fentanyl-laced heroin between 2005 and 2007. This summer, Chicago and Cleveland reported major outbreaks of heroin overdoses. In early October, Chicago hospitals reported treating 75 people for heroin overdoses during a 72-hour period.

"I've never experienced anything like what we went through this summer," Frazier said.

Joseph Martinez grew up in Jacksonville, graduating from Jacksonville High School in 2006. He loved to play soccer as a young boy and was skillful at the game. However, any hopes of using that skill to possibly further his education were derailed early in his high school days after he was found to be drinking alcohol, a move that cost him a spot on his high school team.

Martinez graduated and began his college education at nearby Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield. Anita Martinez believes his drug abuse started in his late teens.

"I don't know how it started," Anita Martinez said. "I was the kind of mom who stayed home with the kids. The next thing I know I'm in the nightmare of my son being addicted to drugs."

Predictably, Joseph Martinez ran into trouble with the law while living in Morgan County. He was sentenced to 30 months probation in a felony forgery case in 2007. That probation was revoked and he was sent to prison for two years after he was convicted of a felony drug possession charge in 2010. He was given conditional discharge in felony cases in a 2011 drug possession case and a 2012 theft case.

In and out of jails and prisons during that time, Martinez found himself homeless by the time the roller coaster was finished. The ride was just as hard on his family.

"I chased him, and he chased the dragon," Anita Martinez said. "I used all the resources that I could to try to save my son. I had gotten to the point where I had nothing. I was living with my mom. She said he couldn't come here and live when he got out of prison. He had to go to a homeless shelter."

Joseph Martinez wasn't homeless for long. He found a home with the Fishers of Men group in Quincy, living with the nondenominational outreach program for the better part of a year.

"It's a great program for the Quincy area," Anita Martinez said of the Fishers of Men.

Joseph Martinez was able to get his life back on track while living with the group. He was clean from heroin, was working and had set a goal of going back to school to become a preacher.

Over Easter weekend this year, Martinez was baptized at The Crossing.

At the end of June, Martinez figured it was time to spread his wings and venture out on his own. That's when he moved into an apartment near downtown Quincy.

"His goals were to get a nice place with his own furniture," Martinez's aunt Marcia Ryan said. "He was very proud of having his own place."

The weekend of July 11-12 was going to be a busy one for Joseph Martinez. He was scheduled to work both days as a waiter at Village Inn. The plan was for him to bring one of the restaurant's signature pies with him when he went to Barry on Sunday night for a family dinner.

Martinez didn't show up for work that day. His mother began calling him in the early afternoon. When he didn't answer, she knew something was wrong.

"We saw him on Friday night and he said he was struggling," Anita Martinez said. "He said he was going to go talk to his counselor on Monday to get back on track."

Joseph Martinez never made that appointment. Instead, Anita Martinez found her son dead in his apartment that Sunday afternoon.

Martinez's death certificate said he died from an accidental overdose from ingesting heroin. His mother and aunt said there were no signs of drug use in the apartment when they found him.

"People would tell me that he was destined for great things," Anita Martinez said as she teared up. "I pray every night, 'God, why did you give me this man? I know you didn't put him here just to be a drug addict. I know you put him here for a reason. I just have to know what it is.'

"Joseph touched so many people in his way, but the end result was what I expected. What I didn't want to hear and didn't want to happen when he was (homeless). I had to know where my son is because I didn't want to find him dead in a ditch."


Source: The Quincy Herald-Whig,


Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig,

This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by The Quincy Herald-Whig.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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