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A family shattered by opiate addiction

by Mick Rhodes | mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

There is no call a mother fears more than the one that begins with, “Are you the parent of...?”

Sue Razetto fielded such a call last year after her son Carlos died of a heroin overdose in a Pomona motel, the culmination of nearly two decades of addiction that left a family shattered.

“I want my son to stay alive,” Ms. Razetto said. “I want his story to help somebody, but I don’t know how to go about doing that.”

Telling the COURIER about her son’s descent is where she began. That Ms. Razetto is here to testify at all, is in her own words, “a miracle.”

In 1982 she was known by her given name, Sue Rogatsky, and was living in Santa Rosa, California with her children Carlos, then five, daughter Andrea, four, and her physically abusive heroin addicted husband, Rick.

He’d beaten her up at a party. She’d endured other physical abuse from him as well. That violence—which was thankfully never directed at the children—combined with his increasing drug use, emboldened her to finally leave the relationship. She and the kids got away. But Rick found them.

“A couple days after that I made the decision that I’ve got to get away from here,  because literally I was going to kill myself or kill him. I couldn’t live like that anymore,” she said.

With Rick away at work, she found a business card for her mother’s pastor, John Foster, and reached out for help. That call changed her life too, this time for the better.

The pastor drove his Volkswagen Beetle to her house and fetched her, the kids and a few hastily packed bags. The foursome packed into the tiny car, drove through the night nearly 500 miles until they arrived at Pastor Foster’s in-law’s house in Rancho Cucamonga, a town she had never heard of.

She had $300 in cash, some clothes and nothing else. But she and her children were finally safe. 

Pastor Foster told her that to keep his in-laws safe she could not contact anyone—family or friends—for a year. He said he’d get word to her mother that her daughter and grandchildren were out of harm’s way.

Starting a new life

During that first month in hiding she literally picked a new name out of the phone book and had it legally changed from Rogatsky to Razetto. She also met a whole new group of friends and landed a job.

“I totally started a new life,” Ms. Razetto said.

And it was by all accounts a fine new life. She met a man, Eddie, who would become a father figure to her two young children. She enrolled her kids in private school. She and Eddie ran a successful trucking company. For the first time, the family enjoyed peace and safety.

“We led a very nice and privileged life for quite a while,” Mr. Razetto said.

She and Eddie shared “25 good years” before he died in 2018.

By 2001, her oldest son Carlos was 27. He had a six-year-old daughter, Cassandra, and had just realized his dream of starting his own clothing company, aptly named Familie Productions.

Though he’d never before been on a motorcycle, Carlos had been badgering Eddie for some time to let him ride his Harley Davidson Power Glide. Eddie had always declined, but on September 16, 2001 he tossed him the keys and said “Be back in an hour.”

“Carlos never came back,” Ms. Razetto said.

He had lost control of the bike in Chino and was hit head on by a pickup truck. He was airlifted to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton in critical condition with a broken femur and head injuries. He underwent multiple skin grafts, followed by several other surgeries.

Carlos had never before abused drugs, except for smoking a little pot in high school and a few times experimenting while he was following the Grateful Dead. Of course with such grave injuries, doctors prescribed painkillers.

“And there we started with 18 years of just a nightmare of him becoming addicted,” Ms. Razetto said. “He was going to see his doctor every two weeks after the numerous surgeries, so it was very easy for them to keep giving him the Vicodin, the Vicodin, the Vicodin.”

Before long Carlos progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane. His mother, who had moved into his apartment for a time to help with his recovery, returned to her home and a semblance of her previous life.

Trying to live with opioid addiction

After about year, with his body healing, doctors began scaling back the painkillers. Though he managed to hide it for some time, he was already deep into a devastating opioid addiction.

“He was doing a lot of doctor shopping—going to different doctors and going to emergency rooms trying to get more medications,” Ms. Razetto said. “And he ended up going to the streets.”

Carlos began supplementing the opioid pills with heroin, which would become his drug of choice for the remainder of his life.

“It was just absolutely devastating,” Ms. Razetto said. “I was watching him decline. It was just an absolute heartbreaking thing.”

She’d done such courageous—and dangerous—work to provide her children with a life free of drugs and violence.

“And it was great,” Ms. Razetto said. “We did. We had no drugs and we had no violence in our lives for all of those years. And then to see Carlos at this age—now he’s 27, 28, 29—to see him get into that was really difficult.”

Ms. Razetto estimates Carlos went to rehab 36 times during the 18 years he was addicted, many places over and over again, and psychiatric facilities on about 100 occasions, many of them time after time.

“It’s been a very hard road,” Ms. Razetto said. “The hardest thing though is I never gave up on him, ever. I hung in. I was his constant. No matter where he was, I saw him every week—whether it was a hospital, whether it was rehab, wherever he was I was a constant in his life.”

Some 20 years after he’d escaped with his mother and sister, Carlos reached to his birth father for help, now as a fellow addict. His dad told him he had been clean for some time and was now giving talks at prisons on the dangers of heroin use.

“He told him, ‘I need help,’ and Rick told him, ‘When you get six months clean you can come and see me.’ That was the last time Carlos talked to him,” Ms. Razetto said.

Carlos was back in an LA psychiatric hospital on Friday, May 17, 2019. His mother was pleading with doctors and social workers to keep him through the weekend. She had secured a bed for him at a promising new Tarzana rehab facility, but because of a paperwork snafu he couldn’t be admitted until Monday.

Experience told her that if Carlos was set free Friday, he’d soon be on the streets using. But the pleas went unheeded, and he was discharged with $200 in cash. He ended up in Pomona and called his mother to get some personal items out of the trunk of her car.

“I begged him to not stay in Pomona. He’d overdosed in Pomona before, so I begged him to please come with me and we’ll find a hotel closer to me. But he said, ‘No mom I’ll be fine. I’m going to stay until Sunday.’ He had enough money for two nights. He said, ‘I’ll go ahead and get two nights now. I’ll be out on Sunday and I’ll call you when I check out of the hotel.’”

Carlos and his mother made plans for her to drive him Monday to the new rehab facility in Tarzana.

“We said goodbye, we said we loved each other, and I drove away,” she said.

A maid discovered Carlos’ body on Sunday, May 19.

At its core Ms. Razetto’s is a story of a mother’s love that would not, and will not, quit.

“It’s exhausting,” Ms. Razetto said. “It’s exhausting for him. What a way to live. And what a loss.”

Carlos died alone in a Pomona motel room, estranged from his daughter, his sister, his niece and nephew, and of course by choice, his father. There was just one left standing—his mother.

“Because I never did give up hope,” Ms. Razetto said. I prayed for that miracle.”

An opiate overdose antidote, Narcan, is now available in a nasal spray. Families who suspect or know that a member uses illicit substances should have the drug on hand and know how to administer it.

See the Center for Disease Control’s website, www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/, or the National Drug Helpline at http://drughelpline.org/opiate-hotline/ for information.

The LA County Department of Public Health website is www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/sapc, its 24-hour help line is (844) 804-7500.

The US Department of Health and Human Services resources page is at www.hhs.gov/opioids, its national help line is (800) 662-4357, or to find treatment centers visit www.findtreatment.gov .

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