Mother who lost son to heroin: Talk about it

Greg Gross

Kevin Outen's life wasn't supposed to end this way. Not at 24 years old.

The former Shrewsbury man died Sunday from a heroin overdose after being released from a drug rehabilitation facility in Florida.

Kevin's mother, Michelle Outen, chose to disclose the circumstances of her son's death when she wrote his obituary. She said she hopes someone reading it can learn from his mistake and avoid the same fate.

"So many of our kids and adults are dying from this disease and no one will talk about it," Michelle said. "The stigma of embarrassment and denial must be overcome," she wrote in the obituary.

Many people have taken note of the obituary. Since it was published online, and in The York Dispatch newspaper, it has been shared numerous times on Facebook and has been the topic of conversation for many Yorkers.

How it began: Kevin grew up a typical American boy, his mom said, living the typical American boy's life. He enjoyed fishing, playing baseball and hanging out with friends and family. After high school, he held down a good job that paid good money, Michelle said.

"My son was just a social, outgoing person," Michelle said. "My God. He could conquer anything."

In 2011, at age 20 , his mother said, Kevin started to dabble in drugs, starting out abusing prescription Percocet, with friends.

Several months later,  Kevin made the leap to heroin because it is less expensive than prescription drugs.

Slippery slope: It's hard for Michelle to understand what made her son start using drugs. "I asked him that repeatedly," Michelle said. "He was 20 years old and all his friends were doing it."

When Michelle learned her son was using heroin, people told her to kick him out of the house. She did.

In 2014, Kevin got in trouble with the law and faced drug and shoplifting charges, Michelle said.

Kevin tried to get clean several times, his mother said. The first time, he went to the White Deer Run facility in Allentown. That worked short-term but he went back to using. The craving was too much.

Fortunately for Kevin, he was on his parents' insurance plan and that helped cover the cost of rehab. Michelle  said she can't imagine how someone without insurance can pay for rehab.

Ultimately, the short stays in rehab weren't nearly long enough to get Kevin the help he needed, Michelle said.

Changes possible: A report released in 2015 ago by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania found that most stays in rehab aren't typically long enough to be effective. Instead of a typical 30-stay, it recommended a minimum of 90 days.

York County has been hit hard the past two years by heroin-related deaths. York had seen 56 confirmed heroin-related deaths in 2015, with eight more pending toxicology results before they officially can be ruled as such. If the eight do come back as heroin-related overdoses — which suspected ones normally do — the total of 64 will be two higher than 2014’s 62, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay.

To help cope with the increased demand for help, the county is considering expanding its rehabilitation facility, which it operates with White Deer Run, in Springettsbury Township. One of the options  calls for  as many 65 additional beds .

Most recently, Kevin returned to a rehab facility in Florida before going to a halfway house. But his relapse resulted in death this time.

"Kevin's struggle has ended. He is finally at peace," Michelle wrote in her son's obituary.

Saving lives: Kevin's family doesn't want his death to have been in vain.

"That's why it was so important to me that Kevin's life not be a statistic," she said. "I just think it's a story that has to be told."

And Michelle gave some advice to children and parents in the obituary:

"To all children, this is a simple reminder that there are people who love you with everything they have and no matter what you do. Don't be too afraid or ashamed to ask for help. To all parents, pay attention to your children and the world that revolves around them. Even when the surface is calm, the water may be turbulent just beneath," Michelle wrote.

Talk about it: Coroner Gay said she read about Kevin's life and plight in his obituary. Many others read it, as well; Gay said it was a topic of discussion in her office Wednesday morning.

Gay said she understands why some families don't want to share their stories. But she hopes those who read Kevin's obituary will talk about his life and drug addiction and it will spur open communication.

"If anything, families will be willing to bring it up as they are sitting around the dinner table," Gay said.

Kevin's sister Stacie Madison summed up the reason why the obituary may resonate with others — and encourage difficult conversations.

"She  wanted to make it something powerful,"  Stacie said.

— Reach Greg Gross at