Heroin's hold is hard to escape, grieving Richmond parents warn

Dylan Poindexter, whom his parents called a smart and funny kid, was 22 when his roommate found him dead of a heroin overdose.
Dylan Poindexter, whom his parents called a smart and funny kid, was 22 when his roommate found him dead of a heroin overdose.

RICHMOND — Nothing about the way Dylan Poindexter grew up indicated that he would die of a heroin overdose at age 22.

Dylan, the son of a retired Lexington firefighter and a hospital pharmacist, had a somewhat idyllic life.

Alan and Donna Poindexter raised Dylan and his older brother, Shelby, 27, in a large, impeccably decorated home set on acres of beautifully landscaped land in Richmond.

Dylan fondly remembered how his father always took him hunting and fishing, and the way his parents worked to give him the right balance of discipline, love and encouragement. He was blessed with good looks and musical talent, especially with the guitar. Dylan had goals, and Alan and Donna Poindexter took pride in helping him reach them.

Dylan was a good — and intelligent — kid. He learned to read at age 4. He suffered no trauma in his younger years, not even a broken bone, his mother said.

"He was smart, he was funny, he was so cute," Donna Poindexter said.

Saturday would have been Dylan's 23rd birthday. But instead of having a celebration, his parents are holding a memorial service for him at their Richmond home.

He died in early June, one of 28 fatal overdoses in Fayette County so far this year.

Since Dylan's death, the Poindexters have wondered how heroin took hold of their son, a band kid they cheered on years ago when he and the other members of the Madison Central High School marching band won the state championship in its division.

"We're not those parents who sit around saying, 'We should have done this; we should have done that,'" Alan said. "Because even Dylan told us we did everything right."

Their story, in some ways, is similar to others. Authorities say this epidemic offers no discretion and has little regard for a proper upbringing. That's why the Poindexters agreed to share Dylan's story with the Herald-Leader.

Alan and Donna Poindexter hope Dylan's death will stop someone else from trying heroin. Their message is that people you would never suspect of using heroin in Central Kentucky are becoming addicts — and dying as a result.

"It started in high school when he was 15. Marijuana," Alan said. He recalled looking at Dylan's computer screen and seeing a photo of Dylan and a friend smoking marijuana.

"After that, I became more invasive into his privacy," Poindexter said.

Dylan had friends who experimented with drugs briefly, got away from it and went on to see success. Dylan moved on to pills.

They never kept any prescription pills that could be abused at home, and it didn't occur to them that he could be buying them on the street.

"He was deeper into drugs than we realized," Donna Poindexter said.

Dylan enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University after graduation. He had lots of friends.

But that first semester in college, he didn't go to class. He ended up leaving school, moving back home and working at fast-food restaurants. Everywhere he worked, Dylan found other people who did drugs.

"We were walking this fine line between our concern for him and just driving him away," Alan said.

'I need help'

When he was 20, Dylan returned to EKU for the fall semester. He made As and Bs, and he had a girlfriend. Dylan's parents thought his drug use was over.

But within months, the relationship with his girlfriend fell apart. His parents thought he was going to class, but he really was going to a friend's house to sleep.

One night, in January 2011, Dylan didn't come home, so his mother sent a text message, asking whether he was going to classes and where he was.

His response: "I need help."

Donna took him to an addiction counselor, and Dylan acknowledged that he was taking synthetic drugs that were sold legally but were falsely marketed as "bath salts" or "plant food." That same year, a new state law banned the drugs, which mimic amphetamines and cocaine.

Two things that the addiction counselor told Donna Poindexter stuck in her mind: The drugs had rewired her son's brain, and the Poindexters were not to enable Dylan.

Others advised them to be tough, to detach from his behavior. They did that, but they also gave him rides to treatment and otherwise helped within reason. Dylan made it easy by generally approaching them with a kind or gentle tone, regardless how exasperating his addiction was.

In summer 2011, Dylan ran off to California without telling his parents. He worked at a resort in Napa Valley with a friend who had Kentucky ties. At some point, he began using heroin and got fired.

His mother went to California to see him, and he told her he wanted to come back to Kentucky and try again to get help for his addiction.

Dylan entered an outpatient program in Lexington and began taking suboxone, a medicine that helps overcome opioid addiction. But he continued to use the synthetic drugs.

"We would lay in bed at night and just cry and worry," Alan said. Once when he didn't come home, Alan found him at a friend's apartment complex nearby. Dylan was so disheveled that his father barely recognized him.

Alan told his son: "I don't even know who you are."

Dylan told his father: "Daddy, it's me; I'm still in here (pointing to himself). But I can't get out."

That night, in November 2011, Dylan agreed to enter an inpatient treatment center in Elizabethtown that had been recommended by an addiction counselor.

His parents were stunned when they heard him tell the admission staff about all the drugs he had taken in various doses and forms.

Dylan stayed there for 30 days. His parents and his brother went on weekends for family counseling. He got stellar reviews from the counselors. Once back home, he went to narcotics anonymous meetings every day. But he stayed clean for only 70 days.

He moved into a halfway house for addicts, but he got kicked out for using bath salts. He moved between other halfway and private programs and the Hope Center for Men, which has programs for homeless men and male addicts.

In spring 2012, Dylan holed up in a motel room and did bath salts. He dialed 911, thinking he would die. He ended up in an emergency room, where he told his parents, "I don't even enjoy it. I cannot stop myself from doing it."

"It didn't even give him a high," Alan said.

'Grasping at straws'

Dylan went to another residential treatment program, where he stayed from May 2012 until this past April. He was clean for seven months. His parents were able to pick him up on weekends, and at home he read and watched movies with them.

"We were always a little bit on edge, but we had some sense of serenity," Alan said.

Shelby Poindexter said the family felt closer during the time when Dylan went to rehab and tried to get clean.

"We all started to get to know him again better," he said.

Before long, though, he got kicked out of the residential treatment center when he tested positive for opiates.

Dylan bought a used car and got a job at a pizza restaurant. He scoured Craigslist and found a room in a home in a nice neighborhood near Lexington's Hamburg development. In addition to rent, Dylan paid for his cellphone and car insurance.

Under other circumstances, meeting those goals would be measures of success. But the Poindexters sensed that Dylan was trying to gain independence so he could have the freedom to use drugs. In April, Dylan told them he was meeting with officials in the music department at EKU in hopes of going back to school.

"I think he was grasping at straws," Alan said.

Dylan called Donna on Mother's Day. He told her he was using heroin. After talking to him, she was convinced he did not want to be an addict, but the drug had taken a hold.

All that's left for you is jail or death, she told her son.

"I'm spiraling down," Dylan said.

On May 22, Dylan came home, looking thin and wan. He wanted his bicycle and television.

Alan Poindexter wouldn't give them to him, fearing he would sell them for drugs.

"I'm trying to keep you alive," he told his son.

The week of June 12, Dylan's roommate found him face down on his bed. He had been dead a few days.

That night, at 10:30 p.m., Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison, a family friend, knocked at the Poindexters' door.

Donna Poindexter knew it meant death. He told her it was Dylan.

"It's heroin, isn't it?" she asked. "Jimmy, you don't know how many times I rehearsed this."

Investigators said Dylan apparently injected heroin into his hairline after he took a shower and got dressed for work. His father said he was at a point that it took a dose to help him function.

Alan Poindexter, in tears, said no one knows what the family of a heroin overdose victim endures "until you've gone to the crematorium and filled out the paperwork for your boy and then bring him home in a box."

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