Misty Fetko

Mother of Two
Registered Nurse
Santa Barbara, California

I found out about cough medicine abuse on the morning of July 16, 2003. That was the morning I discovered my older son, Carl, unresponsive in his bedroom. He passed away that day from a lethal mix of drugs including a prescription narcotic, marijuana, and dextromethorphan (DXM), the active ingredient in many over-the-counter cough medicines.

As a registered nurse and an involved mother, I knew I needed to be on the lookout for signs of drug abuse. I can recall once seeing two empty bottles of cough syrup following a sleepover with Carl’s friends. Unsure of whether or not this was something I should be concerned by, I got on the Internet and did some research. Unfortunately, I never found anything to suggest that there was any danger in what I had discovered.

Carl always assured me he wasn’t using substances like alcohol or drugs, and I had no reason not to believe him. I never saw the “typical” signs that would lead me to suspect there was a problem, so I figured everything was normal.

That morning was not normal, though. After noticing another empty bottle in Carl’s car, I rushed to his bedroom door. When I found it locked I became even more concerned. I found my way in and discovered my son lying motionless in bed and not breathing. Despite my attempts at CPR, Carl was dead and I was left to wonder how this terrible tragedy could have happened.

The shock was sudden. I was an emergency room nurse. I had recognized signs of substance abuse in patients over the years. Never once did I realize that cough medicine abuse was possible, let alone that my son would be drawn to this dangerous behavior.

My life changed July 16, 2003. I knew I had to do something to make sure that other parents wouldn’t suffer the same heartache. I began working to spread the word about medicine abuse to parents in my local community and across the country. That work has taken me to school auditoriums throughout the nation as well as hearing rooms on Capitol Hill.

Joining the Five Moms campaign has provided me with a renewed sense of energy and focus in my mission to ensure that Carl’s death did not happen in vain. Through my work with these four incredible mothers, I’m hopeful that we can arm other parents with the information and resources that I unfortunately did not have.