Son’s suicide after years of using pills haunts man
By Dan Herbeck
NEWS STAFF REPORTER
Published:June 12, 2011, 12:00 AM
Updated: June 12, 2011, 12:34 PM
Avi Israel doesn’t want any other parent to go through the nightmare that he experienced on the night of June 4.
After a shot rang out in his family’s North Buffalo home, Israel rushed into a bedroom, where he found his 20-year-old son, Michael, dying of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Michael D. Israel struggled for years with painful Crohn’s disease, depression related to his suffering with the disease and more recently, a dependence on medications that had been prescribed for him by several different doctors.
His parents believe Michael may still be alive today if not for his heavy use of hydrocodone, a highly addictive drug that relieves physical pain but has caused suffering and grief for many families in Western New York.
“I literally sat there in that bedroom and felt my son’s last breath leaving his body. He died in my arms,” said Avi Israel, 59. “I will do everything in my power to keep other parents from feeling what I felt that night.”
The grieving father said he plans to get involved with an organization such as Kids
Escaping Drugs so he can warn young people, other parents and medical professionals about the dangers of prescription drugs.
Israel and his wife, Julie, said too many of the doctors who treated Michael over the years would simply give him pain pills and send him on his way, rather than sitting down with him and talking to him about his disease.
“We’re not on a witch hunt for doctors,” Israel said. “Mike had one wonderful doctor who refused to give him pain pills, but used to sit with him, answer his questions and talk to him about his disease. We wish more doctors would do what this doctor did.”
The suicide is especially painful for the Israels and their daughter, Rachel, 23, because Michael had so much to be proud of.
Michael was a graduate of St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and an architecture student at the University at Buffalo. He was a talented artist, writer and filmmaker who loved studying the architecture of Buffalo’s famous buildings.
He loved to draw and build model airplanes, some of which he won awards for.
“He was a creative person . . . and a wonderful, loving son in every way,” the father said.
But he suffered through years of pain and depression after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at age 13.
Crohn’s disease is a cruel, little- known autoimmune disease that can cause painful stomach cramps, severe joint pain, weight loss, malnutrition and frequent bouts of diarrhea.
“It’s like a hurricane going on inside your body,” Julie Israel said. “Michael’s sophomore year of high school was the last year that he actually had any quality of life. He suffered. He ached all over. Sometimes, he would walk around like an 80- year-old man.”
Michael had three surgeries on his intestines during his teen years, but none of the procedures alleviated his pain. About two years ago, doctors started prescribing painkillers and anti-depression drugs for him.
His parents said the last few months of Michael’s life were dominated by his use of pills hydrocodone for pain, Xanax for anxiety, and Cymbalta, an anti-depressant whose manufacturer warns “can increase suicidal thoughts and behavior.”
“Drugs were taking over his life,” his father said. “He was taking a pill to wake up, a pill with his meals, a pill for pain and a pill for sleeping . . . He had a cocktail of drugs inside of him, and I don’t think one doctor knew what the others were prescribing.”
Earlier this year, Michael went into a deep depression and was using more and more hydrocodone.
“I can’t control myself with these pills,” he told his father.
He attended a drug counseling program, which seemed to help for a couple of weeks, but there was not enough follow-up care, his parents said.
On May 17, Michael wrote about drugs in his journal.
“When I’m on pills, I feel nothing,” he wrote. “I want to stop using drugs in all forms. They are evil.”
Eighteen days later, he took his own life.