EAST HADDAM, Conn. (WTNH) — Lukas Breton was born on April 10, 1997.
His mother Debbie Breton said he was the happiest baby a mother could ask for. His infectious laughter could be heard for miles and his big, blueberry blue eyes would brighten any day.
Well into his teenage years, Lukas would fill his time with family, friendship, and sports.
His warm smile and happy-go-lucky attitude would follow him into his late teens until a tragic accident would send him, and his family, down a rabbit hole of addiction.
Lukas led a very active lifestyle and grew up playing all different sports — hiking, baseball, biking, and even skiing.
A prescription for addiction
It was during a ski trip with some friends to Mount Snow in Vermont that his life — unbeknownst to him — would forever change.
“It was his first run,” Breton solemnly recalled. “It was like 8:30 in the morning…and they all were doing jumps. Lukas comes over the jump…and when he came down off the jump he landed wrong.”
After a trip to the doctor, Lukas learned that he had a broken tibia. His leg was wrapped in a cast –causing him to be bedridden for six weeks — and he was sent home with a prescription for Vicodin.
“That was the first time [he was taking those pills],” Breton recalled with despair. “I did what the doctors told me to do, right? I didn’t want my son to be in any pain. I think that was the biggest thing, right, nobody wants to see their child go through any pain.”
Lukas would heal from his injury and go on to graduate from Nathan Hale-Ray High School — a victory that Breton said was one of his best moments.
“I think his graduating picture is probably the biggest I’ve ever seen that kid smile,” Breton said smiling to herself. “That was the best moment for him.”
After graduating, Lukas headed to Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina (CCU) where he came face-to-face with an unwanted friend: his addiction.
“He was struggling a little bit, and I know it was from those prescription pills that they [the doctors] started with, but I didn’t realize what was happening, that he was still getting some of those pills.”
Breton said he was getting the pills from other students at CCU.
Lukas’ road to recovery
After a semester at CCU, Breton and her husband, Matthew, learned that Lukas started to struggle with anxiety and depression.
While trying to help him cope with those emotions, doctors wrote him another prescription. He also started taking pills from other students.
It wasn’t until his trip home for Christmas that the pair knew something else was off and that their son needed help.
“We finally talked a little bit about it and he kind of said that he was taking these pills probably a little bit more than he should of,” Breton recounted. “And to be honest with you, unfortunately, I didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t know enough about it. I just thought he was taking these not the way he was supposed to be.”
It wasn’t until the trio sat down with a counselor that the Bretons learned how serious their son’s addiction was.
“…He was in much deeper that I realized he was.”
“I found out he was in much deeper that I realized he was. He wanted to get help. I think he knew that he was in deep and couldn’t get out because he tried to do it on his own and it just didn’t work.”
In February, Lukas was sent to a 30-day rehabilitation center in San Diego, California.
About two weeks in, Lukas called his parents and said he wanted out — Breton said it was a hard decision for her and her husband to make.
“We just did what we thought was the right thing to do. I was at a loss. I wanted to help my son. I wanted to make him better. I wanted my son back. He’s 18. He had a whole future ahead of him. So, we made him stay.”
After finishing his stay, Lukas returned home. Breton said the treatment seemed to be working. He was more focused, more organized. He looked healthier and seemed to be in better spirits.
Breton swore the treatment had worked until she saw the anxiety and depression once again creep over her son’s face.
On March 18, 2016, Lukas would make a decision that would end his life and forever change the lives of his loved ones.
That night, he asked his parents to borrow the car. Not wanting him to be cooped up inside all of the time, Breton and her husband agreed to let him use it.
Lukas took the car to meet up with a man, who helped him buy heroin. From there, Lukas dropped him off and then went to hang out with some friends for the rest of the night.
Breton said it was Lukas’ 11-year-old sister who made the 911 call.
But the paramedics couldn’t revive Lukas. He was gone.
Breton would never see her son smile again — a blame she places on that first prescription.
“I think that first prescription he got, taking the Vicodin after be broke his leg, definitely rewired him in some ways … My beautiful boy, who fell into that trap all from a prescription. All from a prescription that was given to him for a broken leg. What I know now compared to what I didn’t know back then, so many things I would have done different.”
In memory of Lukas Breton
After hearing of Lukas’ passing, the class president and officers of his graduating class decided they wanted to erect a memorial for him: a granite bench to be placed beside the baseball field at their high school.
Breton said the class raised the money for the bench and then placed it near the scoreboard where Lukas’ father would stand to cheer him on.
It’s become a sweet, happy memorial not only for the class of 2015 but for the Breton as well.
“I can’t tell you what it does for my family, for all of us to know that this bench … this is a granite bench; this is going to be here forever. People will ask in years to come, ‘Who is Lukas Breton?’ And I hope that people hear all of the good qualities about my son and the happy kid that he was.”
A world changing for the better
When Breton isn’t working, she spends her days traveling to high schools, sharing Lukas’ story and warning teens about the dangers of opioids, drug addiction, and overprescribing.
“He definitely didn’t need Vicodin for his broken leg,” Breton said. “Yes, he was in pain but I’m sure we could have managed it with ibuprofen and Tylenol. And he didn’t need weeks of a prescription; days would have been fine.”
She said one of the biggest issues addicts and their families face is having someone to talk with.
“I think the big thing is embracing somebody if they want to talk to you about it and let you know what’s happening, what they’re doing. Listen to them. Let them open up and understand what is happening.”
While she’s happy that the conversation about the opioid crisis is happening more frequently, she said there are still a few things we as a nation should be doing to help addicts: finding them the right treatment(s), providing community involvement and support, and breaking the stigma.
“This is real. This is happening. It’s happening everywhere … so I think if we can just help support people; stop this stigma, stop the shaming. Let’s help these poor people. I can tell you they definitely don’t want to be doing this. They don’t want to have this disease. They don’t want to live like this.”