When she thinks about what she could have done to prevent her 18-year-old son Brandon Benner from dying of an accidental drug overdose four weeks ago, a cloud of regret descends upon Beth Safirt.
The fact that her son is gone and she is helpless to bring him back makes her numb.

"I think the realization is starting to hit me now that he won't be coming through the door," she said Tuesday morning.

Benner was found dead by his younger sister in his bed at his home in the 5100 north block of Pawnee Trail June 2, as a result of an accidental drug overdose. La Porte County Chief Deputy Coroner John Sullivan said a comprehensive drug screen of urine and blood found several drugs in Benner's system, including methadone, THC metabolites or marijuana, oxycodone and propoxyphene.

According to La Porte County Deputy Coroner Mark Huffman, 11 people have died from drug overdoses in La Porte County over the past two months. In each case, he said, methadone was found to be the strongest drug present in the victims' systems.

Safirt said her son, a caring, sensitive and intelligent teen, had every reason to live. He liked computers and played the trombone in the school band, first at Westville and then at Michigan City High School.

But he did have his problems, she said. He was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and depression while in high school, and his lack of confidence in social situations led a doctor to prescribe him Xanax. While working as a bagger at a local grocery store, he injured his back, and to combat the nagging pain he began taking painkillers.

While in high school, he started visiting counselors and psychiatrists, but the off-and-on sessions he underwent never seemed to work because he gave up, his mother said, and he gradually withdrew from family and lost interest in school.

When a year ago Benner finally admitted to his mother an addiction to methadone and Xanax, a feeling of disbelief consumed Safirt; she couldn't believe the prescription drugs were so easily available on the street.

To wean him from his addictions, Benner's doctor put him on a special medication. It worked for a while, but when he was arrested for underage drinking in April, he missed his appointment with his doctor and stopped taking the medication.

Benner's death left many questions swirling inside Safirt's head, most notably why she wasn't more aware of her son's addictions and why she worked more than 60 hours a week at her job in Chicago while her son waged a losing battle with his drug addictions.

"I'm living with the guilt of not being there. My regret was that I wasn't home more," she said.

While she couldn't save her son, Safirt hopes that by speaking out about the dangers of methadone and other addictive drugs, she can save others.

"I let him slip through my fingers and I can't bring him back, but I want others to learn from our mistakes," she said.
In addition to being more aware of their children's behavior and spending more time with them, Safirt said parents need to realize that anyone can become addicted to drugs, not just the usual suspects.

"Brandon took care of himself. He wasn't some nasty, tattooed druggie," said Benner's aunt, Kim Wallace.

Safirt and Wallace said they would like a long-term drug recovery program and facility established in La Porte County to prevent the sort of tragic event that befell Benner from happening to others. They would also like middle schools in the county to better educate students on the dangers of addictions to painkillers and other prescription drugs.

"(Drug addiction) is an easy trap to fall into and very hard to get out of," Safirt said.