Audrey Berkowitz shares the story of her son, Josh.
The opioid epidemic is strong enough in Brunswick County to warrant having a Substance Use and Addiction Commission, formed in 2018 to battle the death-grip of heroin, morphine, codeine, methadone, oxycodone and fentanyl — drugs that bind to receptors in the brain and lessen the body’s sense of pain. Data shows that 3,671,000 opioid pills were dispensed in the county last year, enough for 28 pills per resident. Eighty fatalities were attributed to heroin and fentanyl.
Many Brunswick County mothers have seen the villain of addiction clamp down on their hometowns and slowly, steadily steal their children. In commemoration of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, one of them has chosen to share her experiences. She hopes her words might help others with awareness, coping and healing.
This is Audrey Berkowitz’s story. This is what it’s like to face the storm of addiction.
“The Montgomery County police came to my door and said, ‘Are you related to Josh Berkowitz?’ And I said, ‘Is he alive?’ Then they came into the house. They said, ‘We’re sorry we have to tell you…’”
Josh Berkowitz died in October 2016, three weeks after his 29th birthday, from a heroin/fentanyl overdose. His mother, Audrey Berkowitz, moved from the Baltimore suburb of Olney, Maryland, to Leland two years ago and works at a Christian recovery house in Ash, where she helps others put their goals in perspective and where she can hold onto a gift from her son.
“I worked in banking for 30 years and got to the point where I couldn’t stand it, and the gift he gave me when he passed away was to do something meaningful,” she says, “because life is precious and we don’t know how much time we have.”
Baltimore recorded an all-time high 2,089 drug and alcohol-related deaths in 2016, 89 percent of them opioid-related. Josh was doing well on his birthday, Audrey says. He was living in a sober house in Annapolis, a transitional recovery place, after trying rehab six times. He told his mother in 2014 he had a problem, but she already knew. The next two years, she says, “were an endless back and forth. As a teenager, he was using pot and ecstasy. We were very close and I said, ‘I love you but you aren’t abiding by my rules.’” She helped pay his rent at the sober house.
But Josh hitched to Baltimore the October day that he died to hang out with a high school friend. In an abandoned building. “I will never know,” Audrey says, “what caused him that day to leave.” Thank God, she says, for the 911 law that allows someone to report an overdose without being charged with a crime.
“He wanted to get clean,” Audrey says. “It was a struggle. No one starts out as a little kid and says I want to be a drug addict. It’s nobody’s goal in life. When someone tries to detox from heroin, you’re so incredibly sick, the chills, the body pains. And that’s what brings them back. It takes a hold of them.”
Audrey, 60, finds peace through walks at Kure Beach, where she writes notes in the sand to Josh, then lets waves sweep them to sea. “When it’s gone, that’s my way of saying he got the message.” She’s taken up photography, landscapes mostly, and thanks Josh for that ambition, too.
Josh’s ashes are in Baltimore, where he has an engraved plaque, with a music clef, that reads “Till We Meet Again.” Josh played guitar, had an ear for music.
The night after his funeral, friends invited Josh’s sister, Melissa, to hear a band that happened to be in town. One of Josh’s favorites. The name of the band is Brand New Day.
Photography by Laura Glantz