South Dakota’s largest county saw 15 overdose deaths in the first half of 2019. But they happen in rural areas as well.
A Chamberlain mother has been hit especially hard in this opioid epidemic.
The white souped-up Chevy pickup now sits idle most of the time in Jenny Forester’s driveway.
“He called it the White Knight. He loved his truck? Yeah, he loved his truck,” Jenny Forester said.
The truck was her baby’s baby.
“When he was 17 and 18 years old a few of his friends–they all had a competition–who could make their truck; the coolest, you know?” Jenny said.
Now Jenny hoists herself up into the driver’s seat at least once a week. She heads across the rivet to the cemetery to visit her son Alex.
On March 25, 21-year-old Alejandro “Alex” Woodraska died of a drug overdose. He’d taken pills that were stamped and looked like the real thing.
“Hydros: OxyContin 30s. But it was fentanyl,” Jenny said.
His mother found him on the floor of his bedroom. When she called out his name, he didn’t answer.
“I stood over him and lifted up his arms and they just… (were) dead weight. He had a froth on his nose and mouth that I knew when I’d seen that froth that he’d overdosed,” Jenny said.
It was the end of a long rocky road for this mother and son.
“I thought I could make him stop; that I could save him; that my love that I have for him could help him and it couldn’t and it didn’t. I thought me being his mother, I could fix him,” Jenny said.
Jenny calls Alex her “soul mate” child.
“The reason I believe I had such a strong bond with him is because he was actually the first one I raised,” she said.
It was a son she didn’t raise, Tyler, now 25, who is spending five years in federal prison after a fentanyl bust; the same drug that killed his brother.
KELOLAND News recently reported on the fentanyl pills mailed to South Dakota.
“A California man, who was a fugitive from the law, is accused of using the Dark Web to distribute 100,000 pills containing fentanyl to South Dakota and 31 other states,” Sammi Bjelland said in a KELOLAND News Broadcast.
“DCI had found out about it and they unwrapped the package took the pills out and re-wrapped it up. He went into the post office that day and picked up the package for him, came out and U.S. Marshals and local police had their guns drawn on him,” Jenny said.
Tyler is serving his time in a federal prison in Minnesota.
“It’s not a good place, but it’s a good place for him, right now; because obviously he wasn’t ready to kick his addiction. And sometimes I wish Alex would have gotten in trouble with him because he was hanging out with him,” Jenny said.
Alex did get in trouble for having psychedelic mushrooms while working at Pizza Hut. Jenny was his boss.
“I had to fire him from Pizza Hut because of the charge, because you’re not supposed to use drugs,” Jenny said.
Eventually Alex sought treatment. He came back home to Chamberlain and got a job at Arby’s.
“The only one in Arby’s who never missed a day of work in a year,” Jenny said.
Back in the cemetery, Jenny points to a piece of his restaurant uniform:
“Keep his little Arby’s hat and his shift manager tag on there,” Jenny said.
Alex is not alone in his resting place and points to his cousin’s grave nearby. She was another drug overdose victim at just 18.
“I just wish more people could not judge and understand it could happen to anyone,” Jenny said.
Jenny says she’ll keep driving Alex’s truck, at least once a week, even though she can imagine what Alex would think of that:
“I feel like sometimes he’s right there telling me, oh you don’t know how to drive, or don’t drive my truck like that,” she laughs.
Her own vehicle pays homage to her son with a photo of Jenny and Alex on her rear window.
“I want people to remember Alex for Alex and not his addiction,” she said.
But it’s the souped-up pickup that takes her on a ride down memory lane.
“It’s what I have left of him, I guess. I wouldn’t ever think to ever get rid of it. You know what he’d probably tell me? ‘If you need money mom, sell it.’ But someone could offer me a million dollars for that truck and I wouldn’t take it,” Jenny said.
The only thing she would take is just one hour with her son.
“Everything I went through, good or bad, for 21 and 3/4 years, it was me and Alex,” she said.
International Overdose Awareness Day is coming up. Those who have overdosed and died in our area will be remembered during a candlelight vigil Friday night on the steps of Sioux Falls City Hall.