Reed Alexander Dehler was an all-star high school athlete and self-taught musician from Connecticut’s “Quiet Corner.” He spoke several languages and worked with developmentally disabled adults in Gales Ferry. He was handsome and well-liked. He was a loving son and brother.
He was also a heroin addict.
“Doesn’t exactly fit the profile of an addict, huh?” his mother, Kelly Rego, said during a recent interview at her home in Canterbury, where Dehler grew up. “You would never think …”
Dehler died of an overdose in 2011, at the age of 22, after a relatively short battle with opiate addiction. In the years that followed, as the number of heroin-related deaths in the state and across the country spiked, Rego said she became more and more involved in the conversation about how addiction — and the addicts themselves — are treated.
“They’re seen as scum,” she said. “When there’s an overdose death, the attitude is, ‘Oh they were just another junkie. Let them take care of themselves.'”
Rego said she’s been luckier than a lot of parents in her position; almost everyone in their hometown of Canterbury knew and loved her son.
“Nobody ever came to me and said, ‘You should have done something,'” she said.
Rego said she knows that not everyone is as understanding. Just reading the online comment sections on articles about drug abuse makes her sick.
“You would not believe the things people say,” she said. “Horrid, horrid things.”
Part of the problem, Rego said, is the mental image people have of a “stereotypical addict.” Since Dehler’s death, Rego has spoken to schools and other organizations about his life and said she always carries his picture with her to make a point.
“Whenever I talk to somebody, I always bring a picture of Reed, because how can you see that and think ‘heroin addict’?” she said.
A Promising Start
From a very young age, Dehler was the sort of kid people gravitated to, Rego said. He was talented, sweet and charismatic.
When he was about 5, Rego and her husband signed Dehler up to play tee-ball. At his first team practice, young Dehler decided he didn’t like the tee; he wanted the coach to pitch him the ball instead.
“They were like, ‘yeah OK,'” Rego said, but took the tee away and tossed Dehler a soft pitch. He surprised everyone at the field by hitting the ball, Rego said, a sign of many all-star moments to come.
“Whatever he did, he excelled at,” she said.
In middle school, Dehler broke a record as part of the track team, Rego said. In high school, he was repeatedly chosen for all-star baseball and basketball teams. He was tall, Rego said, and a natural on the court.
When he wasn’t playing sports, Dehler was teaching himself to play guitar and keyboard, Rego said. He was in a band with a few of his friends and spent most of his nights practicing and hanging out with them.
“I think he was happy to grow up here,” Rego said.
Like many teens, Dehler would come home, say hi to his mom and then go to his room to play music or talk to friends on the phone. He got decent grades and maintained good relationships with Rego, his stepfather and his little sister. He wasn’t the kind of kid you worried about, Rego said.
“He was definitely a young man to be proud of,” she said.
Christmas In The Hospital
She never saw it coming. Dehler was a great kid and they had always been close, even through his teenage years, Rego said. They shared a similar strange sense of humor.
“I couldn’t tell …” Rego said, shaking her head.
Thinking back now, she said, there may have been signs, but he was her first child, her wonderful son, and he had that charisma.
“He could work a room,” she said. “He worked me, even.”
One night, when Dehler was about 17, he came home “basically bouncing off the walls,” Rego said. They knew something was wrong, so Rego and her husband took Dehler to Day Kimball Hospital in Putnam.
“They did a [toxicology] screen,” Rego said. “He had so much in his system.”
Dehler had taken several different drugs that night, including heroin, Rego said. He was in rough shape.
“We sat there, watching him in the hospital bed all night, twitching,” she said.
She signed Dehler into the hospital’s psychiatric inpatient program and he stayed there for a short time, but he was angry about it, Rego said. It was Christmas time, which was always one of Dehler’s favorite seasons, and he wanted to be home.
“That was one time he was truly angry at me,” Rego said.
Throughout the next five years, Dehler went to three or four different rehabilitation programs, most of them “basically useless,” Rego said. The family struggled with how to help him, at one point kicking him out of the house.
“We didn’t speak for eight months,” Rego said. “It was awful.”
But even at those low points, it was like Dehler was stuck in between two worlds. He couldn’t make the changes necessary to get himself clean, but he was still the same sweet, empathetic man, Rego said. He felt so guilty after stealing the money from her that he returned it the next day, crying. Read more…