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Holderness mother is on a mission to fight opioid epidemic

Union Leader correspondent

February 04. 2018 11:45PM
Susan Messinger of Holderness holds a photo taken at the college graduation of her son, Carl, who died in 2014 from a drug overdose. (Bea Lewis / Union Leader Correspondent)

HOLDERNESS — Three years after a lethal dose of fentanyl killed Carlton Messinger, his mother is still using her pain as motivation to work to keep others from experiencing the same tragedy.

“I still think of him every day and try and not dwell on what he would be doing now, as I see his friends progress,” Susan Messinger said.

Her son was eight days shy of his 25th birthday when he injected himself with what toxicology tests showed was five times the lethal dose of fentanyl. He became one of 321 people to die of a drug overdose in New Hampshire in 2014, a figure that would jump to 433 in 2015, and soar to 479 by 2016.

A Plymouth man, Joseph MacDonald, 39, has been charged for allegedly dealing the fatal dose, according to indictments, but Messinger said critical pieces of evidence needed to convict him were not collected when her son died.

“We’re losing an entire generation of people who could be working, supporting the economy, buying houses and paying taxes.”

As part of her efforts to prevent others from losing a loved one to drugs, she is a frequent speaker at recovery venues and shares her grief firsthand.

“I tell them you are not an island,” she said. “You impact so many people, parents, siblings, grandparents, co-workers. You don’t realize how many lives that you touch.”

If more addicts thought about those connections before they took their next drug they might get into recovery, she said.

“Do you want your parents to go through this if you die of an overdose? I will never see Carl again until I die,” Messinger said.

Reminders of her loss are ever present.

Her father, who spent 30 years as a police officer, died on Thanksgiving, following a diagnosis of lung cancer in June. His grandsons served as pallbearers.

“He couldn’t process it. It was just too hard for him. He was not someone who talked a lot, but it just really aged him,” Messinger said of the impact Carl’s death had on her father.

Beside talking with addicts, Messinger has been working with U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster to strengthen prescription labeling laws.

Her son was in recovery when a doctor prescribed him a codeine-based cough syrup for an upper respiratory infection. She said it sparked his return to street drugs.

Messinger says she picked up the prescription at the drug store.

“The label says Cheratussin AC Syrup,” she said. “I work at a dental practice and I didn’t know AC stood for codeine.”

She was Kuster’s guest at Trump’s first speech to Congress. She was upset the opioid epidemic did not play a bigger role in last week’s State of the Union.

“There are a lot of things that have to change,” she said of the many obstacles addicts and their families face.

When her son died and his body was removed from the home, authorities did not conduct an autopsy because they said it was an obvious overdose.

“We didn’t know we could have an autopsy done,” Messinger said, explaining that the lack of an autopsy is among the challenges being faced in efforts to prosecute MacDonald, the man charged with selling the fentanyl.

During the 18 months that elapsed between her son’s death and the time MacDonald was formally charged, law enforcement did not ask his cellphone provider to preserve text messages connected to the case. They have since been deleted.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past three years,” said Messinger, who is thinking of putting together a pamphlet to provide some pointers to others who find themselves in a parent’s worst nightmare, coping with the death of a child and having to think about preserving evidence of a potential crime.

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