When Lauren Stewart and her 9-year-old son, Jacob Lanning, were watching “The Dark Knight,” Jacob was curious about the actor who played the Joker.
“He asked why Heath Ledger wasn’t in the other Batmans, and I had to explain that he died the same way Dad did,” Stewart recalled.
Jacob’s father, Tyler Lanning, died Oct. 29, 2017 from a drug overdose. He was 34.
“I had to explain it doesn’t matter. You can be rich, poor. You could be educated, not educated. You could be a blue-collar worker. It doesn’t matter what color, race. It could happen to anybody,” Stewart said.
“I never thought it would happen to him, and I would be a single mom at 31 and live like this. But it happened. I’m angry and sad and disappointed, but at the same time, I saw him fight and fight. I honestly don’t think he had it in him anymore to keep fighting. People think they’re just junkies doing drugs. It’s not like that. When you live with somebody and you see somebody being an addict, it’s a totally different perspective.”
Tyler Lanning’s spiral into addiction began four years before his death when he received a prescription for the painkiller Vicodin, Stewart said. He was working on the roof of their Lake Twp. home when he fell and injured his wrists.
“He wasn’t always an addict. He didn’t wake up one day and say I want to be a drug addict,” Stewart said. “I saw him cry, a grown man cry, because he didn’t want to live like that. It wasn’t him, and it wasn’t who he was years ago.”
A doctor continued to give Lanning Vicodin prescriptions for a year. Stewart said the doctor cut him off after she complained about his treatment on a website.
“You’re going to go through withdrawal, so you have to get something else,” Stewart said. “He was buying off the streets, and that became expensive. That’s when I think he went to heroin because it’s cheaper from what I’ve heard. It’s very cheap, and it’s the easiest thing to get. He told me it’s the easiest thing to get around here.”
Lanning went to rehab three times, but challenges remained. When he was employed as a carpenter, rehab was expensive. When he was unemployed, he got coverage, but there was a wait.
“He couldn’t stay away from the people, and I saw it because I lived with it,” Stewart said. “I could have locked him in the house for a week, and his phone would be ringing off the hook from his dealers or the people who he used with. That was a huge part of his problem. … and if one dealer goes away, there’s always another dealer. It’s a huge opportunity for somebody to step up.”
Stewart’s own brother died from an overdose in 2016.
“When we went to my brother’s funeral, I said to him, ‘I hope this is a wake-up call,’” she said. “And he actually told me that people who were there and were using would try and get that stuff that he used because that means it’s really good. It’s like a sick way that they think.”
Stewart was honest with her son about the cause of her brother’s death.
“And he was starting to put some things together and asked if that’s why his dad was sick,” Stewart said.
Lanning survived two overdoses from fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, in September and October last year.
“I wasn’t aware because sometimes he would leave for a day or two,” Stewart said. “When he would leave, I would wake up at 1 in the morning and I would clean my living room, thinking a cop would show up and tell me he was gone.”
By late October, Stewart had enough.
“I need to get away with our son, and you need to get help,” she recalled telling him. “I said it was one or the other — get help or go to rehab. I mean I stuck by him for years and when everybody else gave up on him, I stuck by him, and I fought for him. I stuck it out because I didn’t want him to die.”
Stewart and her son left for the weekend and returned home Oct. 29. She found him after the final, fatal overdose of fentanyl.
“I had a gut feeling because when I went to the front door and I went to unlock it, I knew he was home. I just had a bad feeling and sent my son back in the car,” she recalled.
“My son’s birthday was Nov. 1. Halloween was the day before. It was a very crappy week to say the least, having to make funeral arrangements on that Wednesday, on my son’s birthday. I don’t want to believe he did it to say, ‘F it, that’s it.’ But he already had a candy bag for my son and birthday card, which he never does, because it’s always last minute. Sometimes it makes me think he didn’t want to fight anymore. That’s something I’ll live with forever thinking about.”
Since then, Stewart and her son moved to Hunlock Creek. She has a healthcare job as a clinical support worker.
“My son still talks about him proudly and I love that, even though he knows how his dad died. That makes me proud, that he looks at the good times,” Stewart said.
Stewart also looks back fondly on the good memories.
“He was an amazing man, a great father. We had plans for our future,” she said. “A fall from the porch roof, and it was never the same from that.”
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