EDWARDSVILLE — The last years of Jack Zakrewski’s life were tough.
After suffering a heart attack years earlier, Zakrewski, 62, had been on disability toward the end of his life and struggled with back pain as well.
“I know he was in a lot of pain, because he complained to me a lot of times,” his uncle John D. Jeremy said. “He said his quality of life was bad.”
When Zakrewski died of a multi-drug overdose on May 20, 2017, he joined 150 others who died of overdoses in Luzerne County in 2017 — a year with a record-high number of drug deaths.
A Wilkes-Barre native who was raised in the Heights section, Zakrewski experienced hardship as a young man. When he was about 21 years old, his mother died, his uncle said. Zakrewski’s father had left the family, leaving his grandmother to look after him.
“That bothered him,” Jeremy said.
Zakrewski worked years ago at a foundry in Berwick and then did odd jobs prior to having the heart attack that resulted in him being placed on disability, Jeremy said.
Zakrewski’s obituary described him as “a kind spirit known for his soft-spoken respect for humanity and formidable dreadlocks.” Zakrewski loved animals and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” novels, and had a love of music that brought him to hundreds of concerts.
He attended Woodstock in 1969, saw reggae artist Bob Marley live and followed around the Grateful Dead, according to his obituary.
“He was into records and that kind of stuff. He liked music,” Jeremy said.
Zakrewski’s uncle said he wasn’t sure what caused him to turn to drugs, but that he thought it might have begun because of the pain he was in.
“I don’t know if he started using drugs after (the heart attack),” Jeremy said. “Maybe the doctors didn’t give him any more pain medicine. I’m not sure.”
Court records suggest that Zakrewski struggled with substance abuse issues for some time. He had a drunken driving arrest in Dallas Twp. in 2006, and he was convicted of drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession in 2009. In that case, Edwardsville police found him in possession of a small amount of marijuana, a glass pipe and more than $10,000 in cash during a traffic stop.
He pleaded guilty to possessing drug paraphernalia in 2013 in a Kingston case, and at the time of his death he was awaiting trial on charges of drug possession and drug paraphernalia possession stemming from a traffic stop that took place three months before he died.
In that case, Kingston police alleged they observed a rubber band consistent those used to package heroin in the vehicle. Police also found Zakrewski in possession of a straw with cocaine residue on it and a bag of cocaine, according to the charges.
After his death, the police also removed drugs from Zakrewski’s home, according to his uncle.
Jeremy said it had been hard to see his nephew in so much pain during the final years of his life.
“I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was, I guess,” Jeremy said. “I was kind of shocked when he died.”
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