Justin Vernon Pearson, born in 1982, was a joy from the start. He seemed to entertain everyone around him with his vibrant smile.
He was hospitalized several times after he turned three with what everyone thought was a chronic croup. Upon further diagnosis, it was learned that Justin suffered severe asthma and allergies.
Asthma became a life long battle for him. He played hockey for a few years but ended up having to leave the sport. He had countless trips to the emergency room over the years for asthma attacks caused by something as simple as having a fire in the fireplace or an atmospheric pressure change. He was a "code blue" three times related to his asthma starting at eight years old.
Playing baseball on the city leagues, winning the city championship and being a diver for the swim team during his junior high and early high school years consumed much of this time. He had many friends as his charming and out going personality made him so easy to be around.
High school also brought some hard times for Justin. Personal issues lead him to self medicate his feelings with alcohol and marijuana. Many attempts to help him through counseling and treatment failed. Justin under went a chemical dependency treatment program at Hazelden Treatment Center for Youths in Plymouth, MN at 16 years old and gained a new lease on life.
On Labor Day 2004, Justin was very seriously injured in a four-wheeler accident by Hill City, MN. He had ruptured his spleen and fractured his left shoulder. Because of the distance of being out in the woods when the accident happened and being transported by friends to the medical center in Grand Rapids, he had lost one half of his blood through the internal bleeding and under went emergency surgery.
Two days later, he was transferred by ambulance to the St. Cloud Hospital where he remained for over a week. Justin was introduced to Vicodin to help him tolerate the pain.
As an avid weight lifter, he returned to the gym to get back in shape from his injuries and regain the muscle loss. His lifting caused two discs in his back to rupture and Vicodin was used to control the pain.
The red flags of addiction appeared rather quickly and the doctors shut off the pain pills. Several other pain management options were tried, but to no avail.
A junk e-mail in the fall of 2004 advertising Vicodin without a prescription triggered Justin to investigate. Justin's use of Vicodin expanded dramatically. At the height of his use, he took as many as 80 Vicodin within a 24-hour period, all purchased over the internet.
The efforts to get Justin off the pain pills were gallant and futile. The doctors gave him Xanax to lessen the anxiety associated with withdrawal, but he soon began abusing this as well.
During some of the relapse periods, Justin would order both Vicodin and Xanax off the internet and mix these pills. These "Xanax Black-Outs" were very dangerous and would cause his heart rate to slow dramatically. We believe this combination was a contributing factor in his death.
In November of 2005, we did a family and friend intervention with Justin. He was flown to Spencer Recovery Center in Laguna Beach, California; one of the top treatment centers in the country for pain pill addiction
This program not only worked on this pain pill addiction but allowed Justin to deal with some childhood issues and the reasons he chose to self medicate. Although successful for a short time, Justin returned to the internet to feed his cravings.
Justin now wanted out of this lifestyle and tried several times to get off the pills, but was pulled back many times. May of 2006 he underwent chemical dependency treatment at Hazelden in Center City, MN.
His period of sobriety became weeks and months through the summer and fall. Justin relapsed a few days before Christmas.
I saw Justin on Christmas Eve. He was to join his sister and brother on Christmas Day at my home. I received a call mid-afternoon that his roommate had found him. Justin had passed away.
His cause of death was accidental mixed drug overdose. The contributing conditions were:
May you always find
blue skies above your head,
shamrocks beneath your feet,
laughter and joy aplenty,
kindness from all you meet...
Good friends and kin to miss you
if ever you choose to roam,
and a path that's been cleared
by the angels themselves
to carry you safely home.