nj.com: N.J. mom has warning for parents after drugs claim life of her son, 15


Tracy Reinholt and her son, Hunter Reinholt-Demree, on Mother's Day in 2017. Hunter, 15, died on Easter Sunday from an apparent drug overdose.


Tracy Reinholt and her son, Hunter Reinholt-Demree, on Mother's Day in 2017. Hunter, 15, died on Easter Sunday from an apparent drug overdose.


JERSEY CITY — Tracy Reinholt always dreaded her son, Hunter, would struggle with drugs.

His father battled addiction until the boy was 8 years old, which Reinholt said traumatized her and her son. But it left Hunter — a mischievous, daring child — with what his mom thinks was a deep-seated curiosity about drugs. How do they make you feel? Why would a father choose that feeling over his own son?

“It's been my fear his whole life that this is something we would struggle with,” she said. “It actually never occurred to me that it would take him from me … I never let myself go there."

Hunter was taken from his mother on Easter Sunday. She found him that morning sitting lifeless in a chair, the victim of a drug overdose. The Marist High School student was 15 years old.

Reinholt, 46, who lives on Jersey City’s West Side, spoke to The Jersey Journal about her son’s death just two days after his wake. She wants parents to see Hunter’s overdose as a warning about the dangers of drug curiosity and the easy availability of prescription pills. She included that warning in Hunter’s obituary, becoming another in an increasingly and frighteningly long line of parents who have used the death notices of their children to shine a light on addiction.

“My brave beautiful soul lost his life because he chose to experiment just one time with something all too dangerous,” she wrote. “The epidemic of prescription drugs is all too real — please spread the word far and wide — especially to your children.”

Reinholt with a photo of Hunter.


Reinholt with a photo of Hunter.


Reinholt and Hunter were visiting her father in Arizona during the boy’s spring break. They watched “Avengers: Infinity War” on the Saturday before Easter, then Reinholt went to bed at 10 p.m. Hunter left her room with a “love ya, mom," and that was the last time she spoke to him. She found his body the next morning.

“It’s a moment where you know something you don’t want to know and you can’t take it back and you want to turn back time,” Reinholt said. “Like, I knew. I just — I knew.”

His grandfather discovered some of his prescription pills were missing, including gabapentin he took for bursitis and arthritis.

The drug was created to help treat seizures and nerve pain, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended it as a safer alternative to opioids. Reinholt’s father had a three-month supply, meaning 90 pills.

Reinholt said this was Hunter’s first experiment with pills. They had an open relationship and he “spilled his guts” to her about everything, she said.

“He didn’t always love telling me but he always trusted me with whatever was going on," she said. "I know he hadn’t done it before. But I also know he hadn’t had access to it before.”

Researchers began seeing a rise in gabapentin’s use in recent years. Kentucky in 2017 became the first state to classify the 25-year-old drug as a scheduled substance, which subjects it to more restrictions. Other states like Ohio and Minnesota began tracking it. 

Lipi Roy is an internal medicine and addiction medicine doctor who teaches at NYU Langone Health. She said the stigma surrounding substance abuse is a reason most people with addictions do not seek help. When parents like Reinholt refrain from staying “hush hush” when their loved ones die from drugs, Roy said, they help destigmatize addiction.

Roy added that in some places in the country that have been hit hard by the opioid crisis, parents are well informed about the dangers of keeping prescription pills within the reach of their children, but in other places there have not been enough public health campaigns to warn parents of those dangers.

“If we had a leukemia epidemic, I promise you we would be educating people right, left and center about all the risk factors and causes and treatment for leukemia, but we just don’t do that for addiction and drugs in general because of our perception of drugs being bad and that people who use drugs are bad,” Roy said.

Reinholt is setting up a foundation in Hunter’s name, though she’s not sure yet what she wants to do with it. Until she figures that out, she hopes her story will help convince parents to be vigilant about drugs.

“I do have a lot of other kids in my life that I love very much and would like to make sure that this never happens again," she said.