Drug death pains Milford family

MILFORD – “JP” his sisters called him – their goofy, kind, red-haired brother who never seemed to want much from life except to make people laugh.

There were 12 kids in the Young family and 10 sisters and they loved John Paul. All the siblings are now middle-aged and all except Kathy settled away from Milford, where JP had been living in an apartment in the rear of their parents’ house on Federal Hill Road.

In recent years, the sisters started worrying about JP and the people he befriended. They noticed the property wasn’t being cared for and noticed that their mother was helping JP’s young son get ready for school in the morning while he and the boy’s mother slept until noon. Sometimes strange vehicles went in and out of the property, and the sisters were certain JP was taking drugs of one kind or another. Some of them tried to talk him into getting straight. But none of the sisters realized how bad it had gotten until May 18.

Kathy Young said she drove up to see her parents late that Sunday afternoon, and as she pulled into the driveway she heard a scream, she said, and found JP’s former wife and a man trying to put her brother’s body on a flat surface so they could do CPR.

JP, who was 33, died that day, probably from a combined asthma attack and drug overdose. The state medical examiner’s office told the family there was heroin as well as high levels of crystal methamphetamine in his body, said Anne Marie Young, of Marshfield, Mass., JP’s oldest sister.

Shelley Young, 28, his former wife, was arrested that day on charges of drug possession with intent to distribute, and for falsifying evidence after police say she removed drugs from JP’s body after he died. The case is now in superior court.

The couple have two children, and another Young sister and her husband are caring for the boys in their home.

“My brother was in deep with drugs,” said Anne Marie Young.

After his death, the sisters talked about what to write in the obituary and decided it should be honest and say that JP was “a loving and kind human being,” whose “drug addiction robbed us of the essence of our son, brother, father and uncle.”

Hiding the truth about drugs helps no one, said Anne Marie. “It’s not a character defect, it’s an addiction. It seems like you can’t reach out your arm without” touching someone who has been affected by addiction.

More than 100 messages are on JP’s online obituary-tribute page, with many referring to his kindness and sense of humor and some mentioning addiction and overdose deaths in their own families.

“We are apoplectic right now,” said Anne Marie, not only because of JP’s death but because of other drug overdose deaths in families they know and what some consider a heroin epidemic. She referred to Massachusetts Gov. Duval Patrick’s recently announced plans to spend $20 million on treatment for opioid addicts to stem what he called an epidemic. Patrick and New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan joined most of the other New England governors at a recent conference to map out a regional response to the growing problem of opiate drug abuse.

The Young siblings are also trying to wrap their minds around what Anne Marie said police told them – that John Paul was a major drug dealer.

“How do we reconcile the JP we knew” with that information, she said.

As painful as it is, the family is still able to remember the good times and the things they loved about JP, who worked as a carpenter and liked to tinker with computers. They don’t want addiction to define him.

Maura Young, of Scituate, Mass., said she remembers her brother, born when she was 8 years old, as a mischief-maker who loved life and liked to “live simple and be happy.”

But he dropped out of high school in 1999 and he seemed to suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression that was never treated. His life “took a wrong turn,” she said, and so have the lives of too many others.

“We had three overdose deaths in Scituate just in the past week and a half,” she said. “It’s crazy this is happening. People need to be treated like they have an addiction,” not as if they are criminals.

Susan Young, who lives in Florida, remembers when they were children and other kids would pick on her younger brother because of his red hair.

“But he always had a good attitude,” she said, and was “such a lovable little boy. He’d ask a million questions.”

But over the past year and a half he became entangled with people who weren’t good for him, she said.

“They liked him,” but “they had issues, and he liked helping other people.”

Once, after one of the sisters noticed strangers going in and out of the house, Susan asked him to tell her the straight story, and he told her he had problems with an attention disorder and with asthma.

“I think he was ashamed,” she said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at kcleveland@cabinet.com or 673-3100, ext. 304.