Opioid series: A father’s story
After losing his son to addiction, Mark Hart dedicates time to helping others
The opioid epidemic is rampant in the U.S. Nearly 5 million people are addicted to prescription painkillers, heroin or synthetic opioids such as fentanyl. Every day, 115 people die from overdoses.
The UAW and Ford Motor Company stand united to bring attention to this critical issue. In this periodic series, we’ll share stories of Ford employees, who like millions of people, are dealing with the impact of opioid-related addiction.
Mark Hart marked the 29th birthday of his first-born son, Marcus, this year. But instead of celebrating the occasion with family and friends, Hart laid flowers at his son’s grave.
Marcus Lee Hart II died from a heroin overdose.
“Just four days after Marcus got out of the Army in 2014 with his honorable discharge, he was found dead in a stranger’s home in Cleveland,” said Hart, an Ohio Assembly Plant Worker who lives in a small town called North Ridgeville.
Hart had no idea his son was battling an addiction to opiates.
“Like any normal kid, he went through the phases of smoking pot and drinking alcohol in high school,” he said. “But when they’re addicts, they fight harder at hiding their addiction because it’s easier than just giving up and admitting they’ve got a problem. It hurts because as parents you’re seeing it before your eyes but not realizing it until it’s too late.
“Marcus hurt his back playing football in high school. He got hooked on Vicodin, and I think it just spiraled out of control from there,” said Hart. “He went into the army at age 23, but he got hurt there too. They prescribed him drugs even though there were concerns about his addictive behaviors.”
Hart’s son was not alone.
For many people, addiction begins with physician-prescribed pain pills. The opioid epidemic is only getting worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 percent of people who use heroin misused prescription pain relievers, such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, Opana, morphine, codeine and fentanyl.
Marcus hid his addiction well, Hart said.
“You just got to pay attention to the signs. I wish I would have — things like missing spoons, missing money or missing heirlooms that you don’t look at all the time,” he said. “My wife was better at it than I was. I denied it, thinking it was okay and it wasn’t that way.”
Marcus enjoyed writing songs, singing and playing the guitar. After he passed away, his father discovered haunting, albeit telling, messages in his music. He wrote:
“Like a needle filled with sin, feel that poison drifting in. Tried the 12 steps, tried to heal. No one can change the way I feel.”
“My son used words in his music to describe the struggles he had with addiction — struggles far greater than I knew as a parent until it was too late,” said Hart.
He buried Marcus with a Bible.
“We found his Bible open to the Book of Job,” Hart said, who now has a photo of Marcus tattooed on his arm in remembrance of his son. “I grew up in a Christian family, but I didn’t know about Job and the struggles he went through. Job kept his faith even though he lost his kids. He lost everything but his faith in God.”
Losing his son opened Hart’s eyes to the opioid epidemic ravaging the country.
“After Marcus passed on, kids were coming out in the neighborhood saying, ‘Yes, Mr. Hart, I have this problem too,’” he said. “And these are kids on the football team. Some of them wrestled. They are really good kids, and they come from great families. It’s just hard to believe.”
Hart said it’s important to remove the stigma and stereotypes associated with drug addiction.
“There’s a generation that’s lost from my area because of it, and this is common. This isn’t just North Ridgeville,” he said. “It affects every city and state.
“And the parents that don’t look out for these things and say, ‘Not my child,’ let me tell you something: If you would have seen my son you would have never thought that he was addicted to heroin.”
Today, Hart honors his son’s memory by speaking for community organizations and reaching out to others who are struggling with drug addiction. And he makes it a habit to always carry two packages of Narcan, a prescription medicine that reverses an opioid overdose.
“Losing our son was the most devastating time of our lives,” he said. “If we can save one life, it’s worth it. I pray that anyone who knows of someone that is struggling with addiction that they give them strength to fight this scourge on our earth before another precious life is lost.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with drug misuse or abuse, please reach out for help. If you’re not a Ford employee, call the free, confidential treatment referral service, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) any time, day or night. Parents looking for information about talking to their children about drug abuse can call Partnership for Drug-Free Kids at 1-855-378-4373.