Equal justice for heroin deaths

Drug dealers associated with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death have already been arrested. When will my late son’s dealer see justice?

The tragic passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a heroin overdose brought tears to my eyes. But I do a lot of crying anyway these days, because my beautiful and loving son recently died of a heroin overdose, too.

At least we assume so. And the reason we have to make an assumption is that unlike the famous actor, whose family got a medical report and a preliminary toxicology analysis quickly, we’re still waiting — seven weeks after Richie’s death.

Indeed, we’ve been told that the “back-up in Richmond,” where the body was immediately taken and given a medical analysis, might mean that a toxicology analysis c ould take six months.

And unlike in the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman, where arrests have already been made, for the overextended detectives in Stafford County, Virginia, finding the suspected drug dealer responsible for a heroin death can be complicated without a toxicology report.

On January 20, 2014, I wrote to the detective assigned the case and pled for action:

“A month has elapsed since my son, Richard Ervin Cizik, Jr, my namesake, died as a result of a drug dealer knowingly selling him a needle (presumably heroin, since we know he had a heroin addiction) despite likely knowing he had been drug free for over sixty days. Aside from the crime of drug dealing, this is a degree of criminal behavior that is particularly odious, felonious, and threatens all the people of our community and commonwealth. This crime, which deserves a manslaughter charge in addition to that of drug dealing, needs to be investigated with proper dispatch. As I said, a month has elapsed and for all I know, this drug dealer is still plying his trade on the streets of Fredericksburg and Stafford County.

My question to you is this: Why hasn’t this drug dealer been arrested? If he has been interrogated, and released, please apprise me of this fact.”

I got an immediate call to come into the Stafford County Judicial Center the next morning to meet with the detective in charge. It was an eerie feeling walking through a huge, almost cavernous facility without seeing another — not the picture so often depicted in television crime shows.

I was led by the detective assigned the case into a small room presumably used for interviewing suspects. I recounted to him the circumstances of Richard’s death in our home, acknowledging that some of the details were hazy. The chaos of the moment, seeing your son alive one moment and dying in your arms the next, is almost more than the mind can absorb. I even got lost following the EMT vehicle to the hospital. Your mind is racing and reeling from fear. Could they revive him? Aren’t there drugs to do that? I didn’t hold out much hope.

You can be certain . . . that if Richie Cizik’s name was Philip Seymour Hoffman we would have a toxicology report and the drug dealer would have been arrested.

Richie was just 23 years old, a bright, handsome, gregarious college student who had been to rehab in Winchester, Virginia, and clean for sixty days. In fact, he joined me at the White House Holiday Celebration two days before his death and shook hands with President Obama, whom he admired so much.

Whatever prompted him to go out and buy a needle the morning of his death, we’ll never know — except that heroin is a powerful drug that messes with your mind. As recounted in my article “Reflections of a Father About A Lost Son,” he died in my arms, his head on my left shoulder and his body sprawled out before me, as my other son, John, and his girlfriend, Tayler, tried desperately to revive him with CPR. I held a cell phone in my other hand getting advice from a 911 operator about what to do. I prayed, repeatedly, “God, please don’t let my son die.”

We all understand that this hard-working Stafford County detective, and presumably other narcotics officers, are working this case. I hope so, though we don’t get updates. We’ve all cooperated as much as we know how, given the shock and grief at the time. The County Sheriff’s Office still has Richie’s phone, which may have clues to whomever he bought drugs from. I’ve asked them not to lose it or erase the pictures from the White House.NeedleAbandoned

You would think that tracking down the drug dealer who sold our son his heroin and his supplier should be a priority. You can be certain, though, that if Richie Cizik’s name was Philip Seymour Hoffman, we would have a toxicology report and the drug dealer would have been arrested and probably already charged. But for us, days turn into weeks. Mark, a local man who lost his son three years ago to heroin, warned me to “expect six months to a year.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote this to the detective involved: “Richie Cizik’s death has not gone unnoticed, and I won’t allow his death to be in vain. If I need to ask for other jurisdictions to lend their help so that a drug dealer is arrested, I will do so.” These are the indignant — if not somewhat angry — words of a frustrated father who has lost his eldest son.

Revenge? I can’t even begin to analyze that one. More is at stake than my own need for justice. I am worried that some other parent’s son or daughter will die before an arrest is made. If this drug dealer knew he was selling to a young man who was drug-clean, making any dosage a death sentence, and was willing to do it anyway, then he’s a very dangerous criminal.

There is an unequal justice system in America. Most of us know this. It just doesn’t hit home until it is your son (or daughter) that dies. Then you want some justice. Does it have to be this way?

And for churchgoers like me? Let’s face it — to the white (conservative and liberal) church, drug abuse is not even on the radar screen. That’s what happens somewhere else. The other side of town.

No more. The real-life consequence of a failed forty-year drug war is a kind of pain that is unimaginable until it happens to you. Pray it doesn’t.

Rev. Richard Cizik
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  • http://www.askanaddictioncounselor.com Todd Branston

    Poignant and extremely well-written. I am a long-time clinician that specializes in the treatment of addictive disorders. Your story is sad and all-too-common. I am very sorry. I hope you are able to find peace, however that tends to manifest.

  • Jacob Brandenburg

    I tend to agree with you in the fact that the celebrity and the one who will draw a crowd will get the media and police behind them and find answer very quickly. Because of that, I am sorry for you and your family that your son never made it on the radar to move things along more quickly. I truly hope that you find some answers sooner than later.

    I am a recovering addict and alcoholic; and the words that you say of the “white church” these things just could not happen. They don’t want to see. They don’t want to admit. They certainly don’t want to acknowledge one of their own has fallen victim to it. They would rather paint a lovely picture that there is nothing horribly wrong her and we are not part of the world. This is the discussion that I truly needs to be made and addressed so that leaders and lay folk alike are more willing to help an addict of shaming, shunning, etc to no help to anyone. Perhaps it makes them feel superior, but that is another topic.

    Again, I am sorry for your loss. I am sorry for your pain. Just be sure that I pray for families like yours everyday so that the pain of addiction does not have to continue. God bless and keep you.

    Shalom