Mother shares story of son who died from overdose after starting to use drugs in junior high

Mother shares story of Harris Wittels dying from drug overdose

By Karen Drew - Reporter/Anchor, Derick Hutchinson

A mother is speaking out to deliver a heartbreaking lesson to other parents. She opened up about what she wished she would have done when her son was a teenager.

Is your teen using drugs? Would you spot the warning signs? More parents are signing their children up for random drug testing, which is something the mother is pushing for after she lost her son.

Harris Wittels always knew how to make people laugh.

"Harris was literally born a comedian," said Maureen Wittels, his mother.

She remembers that her son at 4 years old insisted on being the birthday clown at his own party.

"He was the clown," Maureen Wittels said. "That was so cute. Oh, my goodness."

At 6 years old, Harris was acting out skits. At 8, he was on stage in a fashion show. By 18, he won third place for Houston's funniest person at the Laff Stop.

"Anything to do with comedy, he did it," Maureen Wittels said. "Sarah Silverman heard him one night in a club. She got in touch with him. He sent her some writing and he was hired to write for her show -- at 22 -- for two years."

The next stop was Hollywood. Harris went on to write for "Parks and Rec," the hit show on NBC, and later became executive producer. But when he wasn't writing or making people laugh, Harris was locked in a life-or-death struggle on the inside.

"That first pill for him was deadly," his mother said.

After a back injury, Harris Wittels started taking OxyContin.

"At one point, he was spending about $4,000 a month on Oxy," his mother said. "It's really easy to move on to heroin because it's cheaper and much easier to get on the street."

After three stints in rehab and countless family interventions, Harris Wittels died from a drug overdose in 2015. His parents later discovered he had started using drugs in junior high.

"In his rehab journals we got after he died, he mentioned that he had been trying drugs since he was 12, but it was recreating," Maureen Wittels said. "We simply didn't know what was happening to him."

The National Institute on Drug Abuse research shows teens who use drugs are more likely to get hooked later in life.

"It's pretty common here to see a parent come in with a teenager," said Dr. Doug Conquest, of Any Lab Test Now. "They say they have some suspicions about their kids using drugs. They ask what kind of tests we have."

Conquest said in the last two years, he's seen a 30 percent increase in the number of parents drug testing their teens.

"They test for commonly taking illegal street drugs like marijuana, some of the opioids, cocaine," Conquest said. "We also have other tests which are specifically for synthetic marijuana, Spice or K2 -- common names for that."

The tests are simple, usually involving a hair or urine sample. Prices range from $20 to $70. Catching drug use early is key.

Maureen Wittels is sharing her story to help save other parents from feeling her pain.

"In retrospect, I wish I had been more in tune to that," she said. "If I knew Harris was having that problem, I would absolutely be drug testing him. You have got to drug test them. You've got to talk about it."

Pharmacies sell over-the-counter drug tests that you can do at home, but they are limited in the types of drugs detected. For the most thorough tests, taking a child to a lab setting is the best option.

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