When does it stop being a party and start becoming a problem? Is there a way to steer clear of addiction? Every Wednesday, Mike McGowan, host of the podcast "Avoiding the Addiction Affliction," explores substance use disorders with expert guests. The podcast series is sponsored by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition.
Original cover art created by
Kelly P. of Kenosha, Wisconsin
Cade Reddington, an eighteen-year-old college freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee passed away after taking a pill he didn’t know was one hundred percent fentanyl. His mother Michelle Kullmann talks about Cade’s life, his tragic passing, and her fight to make sure no other mother wakes up to this nightmare. If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, help is available. The documentary Michelle mentions is, dead on arrival, and can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJgPmrLjkuo. Locally, resources can be found at 211 Wisconsin: https://211wisconsin.communityos.org. You can also find AA meetings here: https://mtg.area75.org/meetings.html?dist=7 and NA meetings here: https://namilwaukee.org/meetings/
Mike: Welcome everyone to Avoiding the Addiction Affliction brought to you by the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan. You know, there's not an easy way to introduce the topic of today's conversation. On November 4th of last year Cade Reddington an 18 year old college student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee died after taking a pill he thought was something other than what it turned out to be. Cade's mom, Michelle Coleman has been incredibly generous enough to join us today, to talk about Cade, the tragic circumstances of his passing and what she's doing to fight it welcome Michelle.
Michelle: Thank you, Mike. I appreciate you having me on,
Mike: Well, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you being here.
Mike: Let's start by just you telling us a little bit about.
Michelle: Yeah. So Cade was, oh my gosh, I'm going to cry. Um, it was just such a bright shining light and he was so full of this uncontainable brilliant energy that he brought to every situation. He had this amazing infectious smile and he could change the energy of the room when he walked into it, just, he had, he just exuded this really strong, beautiful energy.
Michelle: And, um, he was incredibly social. He's very outgoing, um, from the very first parent teacher conference I had in kindergarten. All the way through high school. Every conversation started off with, "Well, Cade's pretty social" and like, yeah, I know. And like, I'd even start the parent teacher conference I'd say, I know what you're going to say. He's very social. He was just really tough to contain. Cause he just wanted me to be talking to everybody. And, um, but that, and so by the end I was saying to the teachers, yeah. I'm sure it's really annoying for you, but I know it's going to serve them well as an adult.
Michelle: And unfortunately now he doesn't have that opportunity, um, which is really horrific. Um, so, and then, you know, he worked, I own to Play It Again Sports store. And he started working at the store when he was 16. He was so good about going out and talking to the customers and loved helping kids buy their skateboards and families buy their skis.
Michelle: And they got so many compliments about what a great job he did. And then, you know, just hearing stories from friends, like as he got into his teenage years and he's out and about on his own, like they told me like when they would go to a store, he would strike up conversations with the checkout clerks at Target and tell them to have a great day.
Michelle: And. He just had this beauty about him about just like I said, bringing light into all these different situations.
Mike: Yeah. You know, I, I, I told you before he started this, I saw that smile there's I saw a YouTube video where he was doing backflips in a classroom and he just grins at the camera. And just before he does the back flip and you could tell he owned the room.
Michelle: Yeah, he loved the attention. It got him into a lot of trouble, but he loved the attention. Yeah. The backflip thing, I, a video a memory came up on Facebook recently, and I didn't even know that I had this. I had recorded his very first backflip and my caption was after working five months, Cade finally nails his first backflip.
Michelle: And, um, he never stopped after that. So we've got so many videos of him doing backflips off of, you know, diving boards and cliffs and, um, boats and just standing on the ground and off of fire hydrants. And he just, he worked really, really hard at that. Perfect it,
Mike: Well, he was only 18, but as he went through high school, were there difficulties around substances?
Michelle: Well, okay. So it started with Juuling in middle school and it was so frustrating. I, every time I found one, I would take it away. He'd get grounded, he'd get his phone taken away. It's like, mom, everybody's doing it. There's not even nicotine. It's just the pods with the flavored water. But I know, I know it wasn't so.
Michelle: Uh, you know, I believe that that first and that the, the vaping was a gateway. And, you know, when they get, um, exposed to nicotine, which is addictive at that young of an age, I believe that Cade just had with that exuberant personality, I think there was a part of his brain that had an addictiveness to it.
Michelle: Or if that he was more subjective to addiction. And, um, so I think that the Juuling really had an effect on his brain and then, you know, then it became marijuana and drinking. Um, and. Apparently he had dabbled with pills and I did not know this until a year later when he told me and it was after he had started going to some, uh, narcotics anonymous meetings with a friend who was having trouble with, with drug use.
Michelle: And I asked him, why are you going to those NA meetings? And he said, oh, just because he had gotten an underage drinking ticket and he wanted to stop partying and drinking. So he was like, it's, it's the same thing. So he was covering up. I never knew about his dabbling with pills, but it was so prevalent in the high school.
Michelle: He was trading Adderall getting he wasn't on Adderall, but he was getting Adderall from other kids. Um, I found out when he told me a year later that he had done Xanax. Um, so that's, what I knew about was that he had gotten Adderall and some Xanax, and that was all I knew about it, but I thought he. From what he had told me, he was not doing that anymore.
Mike: So that same personality that said, let me try a back flip was, um, let me try this. Let me try that.
Michelle: I think so, and you know, I think he suffered from a low level of depression and I was always concerned . Do you think that you're suicidal? And he said, no, I'm definitely not suicidal. And, um, so, you know, you hear so many kids suffering from depression these days.
Michelle: So I didn't think that what he had was any different and he had been going to a counselor. Um, but then COVID hit and, you know, he lost the, going to the NA meetings and the counselor, when, when COVID hit.
Mike: You know, that's, uh, unfortunately I'm shaking my head. Right. Cause that's an all too familiar story.
Mike: Um, about what happened, we were even the first thing you talked about with the Juuling we were making real progress in schools, around Juuling until COVID hit. And now every school I go into it's up again. So, you know, it's like, it's like we took a hiatus of making good decisions for awhile and then you went to UWM.
Michelle: Yeah. So he went, he went off to UWM again. I had no idea that he was taking any pills. We actually went on a family vacation in the first weekend in October. His older brother is a senior at UW Madison was doing a semester in Washington, D C. I spent three days, 24-7 with Cade and my other son that weekend and had absolutely no indication that there was any problem with any drug use.
Michelle: We had a beautiful weekend and I had so much fun together. So I'm so grateful for that memory.
Mike: Yeah. And then I understand that when he took, what did he think he was taking? Do you know?
Michelle: Well, from what I gathered, he, um, he told somebody that he took the Percocet and that he was feeling yucky and she didn't know, she didn't know that two out of five Percocet street drugs have enough fentanyl to kill you. So he knew. And then, um, I think she was the only one that knew that he took a Percocet and then, um, his suite mates didn't know, they thought he just went to sleep on the bean bag chair and everybody just thought he went to sleep. And didn't know the signs of a drug overdose.
Michelle: It's really tragic because had there been better education and accessibility to Narcan. I believe he would still be here.
Mike: So the, so the pill he took that he thought was Percocet was laced with fentanyl?
Michelle: It was a hundred percent fentanyl. The toxicology report came back showing no oxycodone, which is the base drug of a Percocet.
Michelle: So here he thinks he's taking a Percocet. You do not die from taking one Percocet. And, um, yeah. And that's the story that is being heard all too often across this country is that these kids and young adults are dying on, uh, know hundreds on a daily basis from fake pills or. You know, it's not just pills, it's cocaine, that's laced with fentanyl.
Michelle: And, um, I know somebody here in Madison whose son passed away from marijuana laced with fentanyl.
Mike: We've talked about it here. Uh, law enforcement says it's everything that's laced with fentanyl.
Michelle: Yeah. It's really scary. It is. There's just no room for any experimentation right now in this country. I'm on these Facebook groups with these other parents.
Michelle: Um, and just seeing these tragic stories of, you know, 14 year old kids who try it, buy a pill off of Snapchat for the first time. And they think they're getting Xanax and they end up dead.
Mike: Was the pill he took? Do you know if it was a pill? Was it a capsule?
Michelle: Um, I'm assuming it was one of those blue M thirties I think is what they're called is what is apparently very prevalent in Milwaukee.
Michelle: And so we're suspecting that, that's what it was.
Mike: Uh, in other words, somebody told him it was a Percocet and then he just bought, believed that, uh, you know, I, I don't mean to go down this road, but is anything happened to that person that's sold it to him?
Michelle: No. Um, so there's nobody saw the transaction, so there's no hard evidence.
Michelle: What it's going to come down to is seeing, you know, cause Cade did everything on Snapchat. Like all these kids do. So. It's going to come down to his Snapchat records. So there's a subpoena into Snapchat to get his records because he on the phone, it disappears on. So whatever Snapchat can hold on to. So here's something that's really frustrating is today's show a couple of weeks ago, ran a piece on Snapchat, coming out with a press release, saying that they were doing all this work to increase their response time to police subpoenas and to crack down on drug dealers and that they were cutting the response time from months to two weeks. Well, the subpoena for Cade's records went in at the end of November and we still don't have them. So I don't know what Snapchat is doing and why they're saying that they're doing this when they're not.
Mike: And in the meantime, you there's no manual for a mom for this. You just have to follow the process. I bet you're learning things day by day.
Michelle: Yeah. Um, yeah. And as far as the police case go, it's, we're just, we're in a holding pattern. There's nothing that there's no other evidence that they have until, um, we get the Snapchat records.
Michelle: So that's a lot of anticipation waiting to see what's going to happen with that because I would love to see, um, this get prosecuted as a homicide. 'cause that's what it is. He was given some thing he was poisoned and there's a big push to see, you know, among these parents whose kids have died from the fake drugs, that they're laced with fentanyl, where they did not intend to take it, that these should be called a fentanyl poisoning and not a drug overdose because nobody intentionally took a drug too much of a drug, which is what a typical drug overdose would be.
Michelle: They were poisoned by this fentanyl.
Mike: I actually think that's an appropriate definition of what happens to a lot of these folks, right?
Michelle: Yeah. And it's really frustrating. His death certificate says accident. So at some point in the future, when I have more time and energy, I want to have a push for that to get changed.
Michelle: This was not an accident. This was a homicide.
Mike: Well, and not to, not to go down another road, but, um, speaking of time and energy, this is relatively recent. You, you have to still be running in circles in your own brain.
Michelle: Yeah. The last three months have been absolutely insane. Um, so I also sold my house and bought a condo in the last three months also and downsized 10 years of living.
Michelle: So on top of running a store in the busiest time of the year and doing all this advocacy and trying to figure out how to grieve. So I'm a little crazy.
Mike: Justifiably. So what is that? Um, you know, you're taking some of those feelings, right. And projecting them outward and really trying to make a difference.
Mike: You've spoken to a lot of folks
Michelle: I have. So my first priority was I was really frustrated with the university. Um, and I hope it's gonna be okay to talk about this, that. When Cade passed. We had a meeting that following Monday with the university, with the Dean of Students and the Chief of Police and the Residence Hall Director.
Michelle: And I asked the, I asked the Dean of Students, how many other drug overdose deaths they've had in the last year? And he looked at me and said, I don't know, I'd have to get back with you. And then he came back a week later and told me that Cade was the first. And I thought that was really strange. Well, then a week later, another family reaches out to me on Facebook because they saw my post about Cade we've been very public about this because I want people to know what's going on and that, you know, I want to save lives.
Michelle: Well, this mom reached out to me, not even knowing that Cade was a UW student. She was just another grieving mom. We find out that her son died in the same dorm at UW Milwaukee on February 14th, 2021. So I was livid that I was lied, you know, I was misinformed by the, by the school. Um, and so when I found that out, I really thought about this and I thought, well, you know, they had another student that died with the same thing, Percocet laced with fentanyl..
Michelle: And there was no response from the university, no increase in education. And think about this. Just say, think of if a student died, because there wasn't a smoke detector and they died of smoke because there was a fire, you can be darn sure there would be changes made immediately. Right? But there was a drug overdose, right?
Michelle: So that wasn't given the same, um, gravity as, as another type of death. So my big push is we need Narcan in every residence hall. Why is there not Narcan? We've got other life saving measures, there's AEDs and there's fire extinguishers. And so I thought, well, I'll just go right to the top. So I started requesting meetings with Tommy Thompson.
Michelle: Because he's the interim, uh, president of the UW system. So we got a meeting a Zoom meeting with Tommy Thompson and have requested that they mandate putting Narcan in every residence hall throughout the UW system. And that they increase their education to update their education, to include the fentanyl crisis because everything they have is outdated.
Michelle: It doesn't include anything about this whole fentanyl crisis. It's not the same landscape that it was five years ago. Whenever their last updated. So my understanding is that there are, this is in the works, um, there's meetings that are going on there's budget that's approved for an updated education campaign, and they're working on the messaging and they're preparing to send information out to all the college campuses about getting the naloxone boxes, um, in all the residence halls, I'm not sure it's going to come out as a mandate, which I hope that they change their mind and, um, change it to a mandate instead of just encouragement.
Mike: Well, I don't know if you saw it, Michelle, but, um, Just in the last couple of days, the, uh, Biden administration has talked about making fentanyl test strips available and, uh, uh, and, and the Narcan available in places.
Mike: He's getting some blow back for that. But, you know, I had that been available where, you know, a kid could test the drug to see if there's fentanyl in it before they take it. They estimate and Philadelphia that that's already there doing it there it's already saved 114 lives since. They've done that. So
Michelle: Um, yeah, Wisconsin did just decriminalize fentanyl test strips. I didn't get invited to speak at that Senate hearing.
Mike: Where else have you gotten support?
Michelle: Uh, well finding this other family, the Rockwells there's son Logan is the one that passed away in the dorm. Also. Hasn't been just a godsend to have another family that had the exact same type of loss.
Michelle: Has been incredible. Um, so I'm finding sadly solace with these other families that have lost their kids to the same place. Uh, there's another woman here in Madison who lost her beautiful 25 year old daughter to cocaine that was laced with fentanyl. And again, she was another one where she was going to counseling.
Michelle: COVID shut down her counseling and she reverted back and a friend in quotations.
Michelle: Um, and then also there's another gentleman here in Madison, the one that lost his son to the marijuana laced with fentanyl, who's been very supportive. So it's really come from, you know, other, other parents and friends.
Mike: Can I, can I ask you what you're doing to make sure that you're ok?
Michelle: Uh, I had a dream the other night about getting a massage and that the massage therapist stopped and somebody else came in and tried to sell me all these other things that I needed to do.
Michelle: And it was like, "I just want a massage!" So I think that was my mind subconsciously telling me you need to slow down and take care of yourself and just get the massage. I'm not, I've been, yes, I. That is a big lack. I'm not doing self care enough. And I, I, I need to put the brakes on and start taking care of myself
Mike: And give yourself permission to do that, right?
Michelle: Yeah. Yeah. The thing is that now, now that it had been so outspoken, now all these opportunities keep coming my way to do more and more. And I don't want to turn it down because I want to save lives and make sure the public is educated about this. So I do have to find a balance. And know what to say no to.
Mike: I think every family that goes through a tragedy, um, does the same. Does the same routine. Right. And then finds that balance, uh, between advocacy and self care. And I think it's really, important.
Michelle: Well, and I think this has been helping me just being so busy in the last three months, kept me going. It gets me up in the morning and I'm not crumpled up on the floor crying.
Michelle: So I, and I think what's happening is me keeping myself busy. I'm I'm avoiding what I know is going to becoming is this deep grief. And I think I'm trying, I think I'm subconsciously postponing that because I'm really afraid of it.
Mike: Yeah, you mentioned Kate's older brother. Does he have other siblings?
Michelle: Uh, he has another step-brother three.
Michelle: Um, my I'm engaged and so three future stepbrother's
Mike: How's his older brother at Madison doing?
Michelle: You know what? Ross, he's so strong. He's such an amazing kid. He's. He's really sad and he's really frustrated. And, um, but you know, we're, we're really close and he's coming alongside me on some of this advocacy, but he didn't want to be the forefront of it.
Michelle: He's not ready to do that. Uh, but we got a meeting next week with Mark Pocan, Congressmen Pocan and Ross is going to be involved with that. He's getting a certificate in public policy and it's going to be in his future to be doing some of this work, but he's just not ready.
Mike: He's probably sayin', "Ma, take care of yourself."
Michelle: Yeah, but what's good is he's letting himself grieve. He said, he'll wake up in the morning and I'll have a good cry. Uh, and then he, you know, goes on with his day. So I think somehow he's finding his way through this.
Mike: What would you like to leave us with? What would you like people to know as a, as a walkout.
Michelle: Here's what happened to me is I, cause I didn't know that Cade was doing this. I wasn't paying attention to what was going on in the news. I had no idea that I didn't even know there was such a thing as fake pills. So. My mission is education and making sure that everyone understands and has these conversations with their kids, before they reach middle school, about drugs and about the current landscape and about how it is not safe to experiment or use it as a way to cope.
Michelle: As a coping mechanism, we have to educate our children to let them know that this is not. This is not an option. And I hate just, I really want to make sure. Our kids get educated on having other tools in their toolbox to deal with any anxiety or depression that they're dealing with. And or if they're just an experimental kid to just know, you cannot do this right now, you're either probably going to end up addicted because if say it's a trace amount of fentanyl, that's in it, you'll get addicted.
Michelle: It's so highly addictive. And then you're gonna keep wanting that next thing. Um, so it's like addiction or being dead is a high likelihood. If you start using drugs in today's World.
Mike: The great thing for all of us to know. And I, I echo it. This is what I do for a living. I'm there all the time. And it's amazing what we think we know and what we really don't know.
Mike: And thanks for doing this, Michelle. I, um, if we can be of any help, obviously, you know, let us know going forward.
Michelle: Um, yeah. And we had chatted about, you're going to put a link about that video. There's a documentary called dead on arrival and it's about the fentanyl crisis and it is so brilliant about how they have summed up this crisis.
Michelle: And I really feel that every adolescent needs to watch this with their parents.
Mike: Yeah. I totally agree with you. And I think the more education we know it works, you know, that's the thing, we know it works. We've been down this road before every time we pay attention to something and educate kids about it, they make better decisions.
Mike: If we stopped doing it. We leave the, uh, we leave what they know to what they learn on Snapchat or in the hallway. So you're on the right track. Michelle, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you, um, sharing time with us today and congratulations on your engagement.
Michelle: Oh, thank you.
Mike: Uh, and I wish you a lot of success with all of this.
Mike: Um, so thanks for your fight, your love, your courage, and for the listener we invite you to listen to next time when we'll talk about more issues around substance use disorders, we look forward to sharing the air with you then, and until then you got to stay safe.
The Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition’s mission is to support networking, encourage education, explore gaps, and realize solutions to improve treatment and reduce alcohol and other drug abuse in our community with a primary focus on families.