October 17, 2011

Shock, grief and lessons of overdose

By John Richardson jrichardson@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Matt Rix holds a photo of his son, Matty, in his backyard in South Berwick. Matty, who planned to join the Marines, died of a fentanyl overdose in 2009.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Matty Rix, a talented high school wrestler, died at age 19.

Contributed photo


PAINKILLERS IN MAINE: Stories, video interviews and links to resources.

"I was looking for alcohol and pot," Rix said. "You can't smell the pills."

Matty broke his hand in an ATV accident during his junior year of high school. Although he continued to wrestle, he eventually needed surgery and a prescription for OxyContin.

It's not clear to Matt Rix whether the prescription began Matty's troubles or made them worse. But later that year, Matt Rix got a call from school. "Matty had taken something and fallen asleep on the floor," he said.


Matty insisted it was a one-time thing. His father came down hard, kept him busy wrestling and watched more closely. He didn't see any more pills.

But Matty shocked his father and his family when, months after high school graduation, he nearly died from an overdose of heroin. Pain-pill users sometimes use heroin as a less expensive alternative.

The close call had a big impact.

"That seemed like a turning point for him," his father said. "He saw what he was doing to everybody in the family and to himself."

Matty started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, volunteering at a soup kitchen and attending church. He began reading the Bible and put gospel music on his father's iPod. And he signed up for the Marine Corps. He was scheduled to start boot camp that October.

"I thought that was the best thing for him -- get out of Dodge."

Matty got an apartment in Dover, N.H., 10 minutes from home, and started working with his father, an electrician.

"I was picking him up for work every morning," he said.

One morning, Matty wasn't outside. He didn't answer his phone. Matt Rix had warned him he couldn't wait for him, and went to work. He was working when he got the call that Matty was dead.

Matty had stolen a fentanyl patch from a home where they had been working the day before. The patch, which Rix said was intended for the homeowner's dog, contains a powerful time-release painkiller.


Addicts have been known to open the patches and ingest the contents, sometimes with deadly effect. It's not clear what he did with the patch, although it was opened.

Only after Matty's death did his family learn more about his need for the drugs. His father found lots of empty pill bottles prescribed to friends and neighbors. A neighbor who has cancer mentioned that Matty had stolen some medication, but that it didn't seem like a big problem at the time and he didn't mention it to anyone.

Matt Rix also learned that his son had stolen from his checking account.

"It was like he was somebody else," his father said.

For the grieving father, his three daughters and his community kept him going. He returned to coaching, and talks to his athletes about drugs and about Matty.

Some kids have reached out for help, including with notes left on Matty's grave.

To parents, he offers warnings: Lock up your prescription drugs. When children get a painkiller, give them the pills one at a time and don't hand over the whole bottle.

And know that no town or family is out of reach of drugs.

"The pills are so easy to get," he said. 

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:



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