Carrying on after son’s deadly overdose: Mike Zettler’s story

5 months after his son’s death, Zettler is dedicated to raising overdose awareness

CBC News Posted: Aug 18, 2017

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Since his son Chris died of an overdose at 26, Mike Zettler has dedicated his time to raising awareness of drug overdose prevention in the Waterloo region. (Clare Bonnyman/CBC)

Mike Zettler’s worst nightmare came true in February 2017 when his son Chris, 26, fatally overdosed on crystal meth laced with fentanyl.

“He had his battles in life,” Zettler said. “But overall he was a wonderful young guy.”

Since the death, Zettler has dedicated his time to recovery and raising awareness of drug addiction, and hopes that sharing Chris’s story will raise the profile of Overdose Awareness Day in Waterloo Region.

This summer, there are two public events: in Cambridge August 21 and Kitchener on August 27.

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‘No way my son’

His son used street drugs on and off “quite a bit,” said Zettler.

But he had been clean for almost a year before February 5, the day he died.

It was Superbowl Sunday, remembers Zettler, and “he was supposed to come to my place to watch the game.”

“That day he used [drugs], was his last.”

‘I still knelt by his head and yelled his name, told him Dad’s here, told him Dad loves him and to wake up.’– Mike Zettler

When the police came to find Zettler, he insisted on being taken to Chris’s apartment, where he found his son lying in the bedroom.

“I still knelt by his head and yelled his name, told him Dad’s here, told him Dad loves him and to wake up,” he remembers.

“At that point all I could really do was give my son a kiss on the cheek, and that was the last time I’d seen [him] before seeing him lying in a casket at the funeral home, which was the worst thing I’d seen in all my life.”

Helping Chris help others

For Zettler, his process of coping has included dedicating his time to these events, and to educating himself and others.

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Chris Zettler passed away February 5, 2017 when the crystal meth he took was laced with fentanyl. (Westmount Memorial Celebration Centre)

“I actually started to research fentanyl and overdose,” he said, where he learned more about the drug and how it works.

“It just simply kills.”

The main messages he hopes to pass on to individuals struggling with addiction, parents whose children are using — or who think their children might be — is to put in place safety measures.

“Addiction is to hard to beat and if you can’t beat it at least you can put tools in place,” he said.

This includes not using drugs alone, having a naloxone kit available, and not using drugs at the same time as others so if one person needs help, the other can assist.

International Overdose Awareness Day events will offer drug and addiction information, and also free naloxone kits for those in attendance.

“If you’re having a serious problem with drugs, at least try and put some of these things in place that can save your life,” he said.

“My son’s drugs were laced with fentanyl and I’m positive he didn’t know that. Kids just don’t know what they’re getting these days.”

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International overdose awareness day is held every year on August 31, 2017, with events across the Waterloo region throughout the month. (International Overdose Awareness Day Kitchener/Facebook)

Learning how to live

Five months later, Chris’s death is a constant struggle for Zettler, who couples his research and advocacy with counselling to help him cope. He recommends others seek out the same kind of help.

“It’s still fresh. All you can do is try and counsel as much as you can,” he said. “They talk about living your new normal.”

“I just don’t know when my new normal will be.”

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