Stories from the Movement

Patty DiRenzo: My Son's Story

My name is Patty DiRenzo and I’m from Blackwood. I was blessed with two children, Blake, who is 30 years old, and Salvatore, who would have been 27 in April. Sal was an amazing son, brother and father – a beautiful soul who unfortunately struggled with addiction. We tragically lost Sal due to an accidental fatal overdose.

His death, like so many others in New Jersey, could have been prevented if the people with whom he was using drugs had called 911 for help; but they didn’t, most likely for fear of legal repercussions. Instead of helping to save a life by seeking emergency medical services, my son was left alone to die, without the help he needed and deserved. I lost my son, and my grandson lost his Daddy, because someone was afraid to call 911.

I’m a cancer survivor – I am winning my battle with my disease because it doesn’t carry the stigma of addiction. While I was able to get the cancer treatment I needed, my son Sal suffered as those in society judged him as weak. Sal lost his battle with addiction, even after desperately seeking treatment. For years, my daughter and I tried to help get Sal into drug treatment – treatment that he wanted but couldn’t afford or access. We were turned away from hospitals and rehab facilities, one after another, due to a lack of beds and underfunding. In June of 2010, we finally got Sal into rehab and our family was overjoyed and hopeful for the future. Much to our dismay, just 11 days into his program, Sal was involuntarily released because funding had run out. He overdosed in September, shortly thereafter.

With resources and proper treatment, I firmly believe Sal could have beaten his addiction and was well on his way at this time last year, but this opportunity was lost forever with his passing. The majority of overdose victims do not actually die until one to three hours after they have initially taken a drug, and most of these deaths occur in the presence of others. This leaves a significant amount of time for witnesses to intervene and call for medical help, but the fear of arrest and prosecution prevents many from making that call. These legal barriers should be removed, so that calling 911 is never a crime. Saving a life is far more important than punishing those who seek help!

In New Jersey, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death. Almost 6,000 people have died from drug overdoses in New Jersey since 2004. Our state could prevent countless deaths like Sal’s by passing a “Good Samaritan Law,” which would provide protection for those who call 911 in the event of a drug overdose and for overdose victims themselves.

It’s been almost a year since Sal’s passing and the loss I feel hasn’t changed. Any parent who has lost a child knows the horrific pain I experience, but realizing that Sal’s death could have been prevented is unbearable. I can think of no better way to honor my son’s memory than to support Senate Bill 851/Assembly Bill 578. It’s extremely important that we prevent future overdose deaths and spare other families the grief that mine has endured.

Patty DiRenzo: My Son's Story [PDF]

Drug Overdose