A young Ethan at the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee
Ethan Monson-Dupuis could have been any child in the Midwest. He grew up in a nice neighborhood in the Milwaukee suburbs with his parents and older sister, Deva. His mother, Robin, was a psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor at Aurora Health Care. His father, Jeff, was a detective with the Greenfield Police Department.
“He was very intelligent,” said Jeff. “Sometimes to his own detriment – he was too smart for his own good.” Ethan himself voiced this at times during his numerous recovery attempts as he struggled with feeling like he should be smart enough to recover on his own without outside help.
Ethan was on the gifted and talented track at Whitnall Middle School. He loved music and could play the piano, drums, guitar and the marimba. He was also an athlete, playing on a select basketball team in middle school and running varsity track in high school. But he also struggled with anxiety.
“We were never sure he’d make it through an entire sleepover,” said Jeff. “He liked familiar surroundings. Transitions were tough for him.”
In the summer of 2008, just before his senior year of high school, Ethan was prescribed medication for acne. Some of the rare side effects of this particular drug included serious mental health problems, like depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation.
Ethan’s parents believe the medication was the trigger that led him to his struggle with addiction.
“The depression just slammed into him,” said Robin. “And he turned to drugs to self-soothe.”
It began during Ethan’s senior year of high school, in September of 2008.
“That senior year was horrible,” recalled Jeff. “He was on top of his game, and then he was hit with depression. He had always been an honor student, and then we all were afraid he wouldn’t graduate. His self-esteem really dropped that year.”
Ethan was prescribed medications for depression and anxiety – including one that was addictive, which he started abusing. He also experimented with Oxycodone and OxyContin to treat physical pain due to athletic injuries; he drank Robitussin cough syrup to get high.
A long, hard struggle
Ethan went through numerous treatment programs and saw several therapists over the years. He relapsed multiple times, which is a common part of recovery from addiction. He also tried to take his own life three times.
In November 2016, on the heels of another relapse, Robin and Jeff told Ethan that he couldn’t come home for Thanksgiving. Setting limits had always had a positive impact on Ethan in the past and he appeared drug-free when he came home for Christmas of 2016. He even had a new job, was meeting with a therapist again and talked positively about his future.
From L to R: Ethan, his sister, Deva, and his parents, Jeff and Robin
“Those four days he was home were some of the best days we had had with him in years,” admitted Robin. “For eight years we had struggled, put our marriage on the back burner and not paid enough attention to our daughter. He seemed clean. It was a very happy Christmas.”
An ending, and a beginning
Ethan planned to go back to La Crosse two days after Christmas 2016. His struggle with opiate addiction had hit the eight year mark, but he kept trying to beat it. Then, the night before he left, he unexpectedly asked his parents if he could move back home.
“We were caught off guard”, recalled Robin. “He had a new job in La Crosse – his dream job – why would he want to move back home? He wouldn’t give us any more information and we told him ‘no’ – that he needed to continue taking responsibility for his recovery and was doing a good job. It was best if we supported him in being an adult without enabling and taking care of him at home.”
Robin and Jeff discovered later that Ethan had only gone to work for one day, then quit. He had stopped seeing his therapist, was about to be evicted and hadn’t paid his car payments. They had no idea.
Their last conversation with Ethan still haunts Robin and Jeff to this day. They ask themselves, “Would Ethan still be alive if we would have only said yes?” It is a painful burden of guilt and grief that no parent should have to bear.
Ethan never made it back to La Crosse.
“On Tuesday, December 27, he stole $20 from Jeff’s wallet, bought heroin in Milwaukee, used in a McDonald’s parking lot and died,” said Robin.
A world shattered
The Monson-Dupuis’ grief weighs heavily on them. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices as they talk about their son. But instead of letting the despair overwhelm them, they are committed to pursuing Ethan’s desire to help other addicts as a way to honor the best of who Ethan was.
They’ve created a fund to honor Ethan’s memory: the Ethan Monson-Dupuis Opiate Recovery Fund to help addicts get the best treatment possible.
Robin and Jeff hold a picture of Ethan playing guitar, one of his many talents.
“Aurora’s Opiate Recovery Program is a year-long program. It provides consistent monitoring of a patient, requires them to be accountable to being in therapy and provides support, and that reduces the risk of relapse,” said Robin.
Ethan was one of 611 people who died of an overdose in Wisconsin in 2016. December 27 will mark one year since his passing.
“We miss him so much. We know he did the best he could. Just because Ethan died doesn’t mean he didn’t live a valiant life. His was a life worth living,” said Robin. “It ended too soon, but we will make sure that good comes out of his story. Ethan would have wanted that.”
How you can help
An opioid abuse epidemic is sweeping the nation. Programs like the ones at Aurora Behavioral Health Services are critical to helping people get – and stay – on the path to recovery. You can help people struggling with addiction – and honor Ethan’s life – by making a gift to the Ethan Monson-Dupuis Opiate Recovery Fund.