The life of rising rapper and producer Hella Sketchy — born Jacob Tyler Thureson — was tragically cut short when the 18-year-old died on June 27 of a reported drug overdose. Signed to APG and Atlantic Records, Hella Sketchy released his self-titled debut album this past March. In the wake of her son’s untimely death, Hella Sketchy’s mother Judy Thureson reached out exclusively to Billboard to share a very personal message about his passing, the opioid crisis and its impact on today’s youth and their families, and how medical, government and other officials must “come together and suggest a different way of triaging this everyday tragedy.”
June 24 was the day the neurologist came to inform us that my son’s EEG results were not good. Jacob had been in a coma for 11 days. The doctor told us that, in the six days since Jacob’s last test, he was starting to see a decline in my son’s brain activity. The doctor was guarded, defensive and even angry about giving us this news and providing us with further details. He definitely wasn’t trying to sugarcoat anything. In his opinion, we had maybe a week left with our son before he would be declared brain dead. With that declaration, the state of California dictates that a patient must be taken off of life support.
I am very proud of how my husband Erik handled not only the news but the doctor. Erik asked very pointed questions while at the same time trying to get the doctor’s guard down. The doctor was combative. He repeatedly interrupted Erik and clearly didn’t want the conversation to go on for long. Erik continued to be patient and kind, asking things like, “How do you do this? Where do you get the strength to deliver this news? How do you prepare for this?” My husband’s calm compassion eventually wore the man’s guard down a little, and he began to simply share with us.
He was angry. Not at us but at the impossible epidemic that is happening all around us. He said that he delivers this news to parents about once a week: brain death due to accidental overdose or suicide. He was seriously upset and said “we” need to do something. By “we” he meant that parents need to do something. I asked him, “What is the 'something'? I hear this all the time: 'we' need to do something about mental health, depression, addiction, suicide, but what is the 'something'???" He did not have an answer. Nor did the therapists, psychiatrists, in-treatment drug counselors, AA/NA sponsors, pastors, family or anyone else who had tried to help our son over the last two years.
So what is the “something”? We feel it is a commitment to finding a way to confront the out-of-control distribution and use of oxycontin and other opioids. We want the medical and recovery communities, the church and secular authorities, the government and health officials to come together and suggest a different way of triaging this everyday tragedy. Close offending pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies; stop the ability to order these drugs online; put these easily available pharmaceuticals at the top of the enforcement list; change laws to give parents more options to oversee at-risk children after the age of 18; fund effective treatment and support; and stop blaming the parents, family and children most affected by this epidemic.
That last one is important. You may not know it, but people you know at your church, your work, your school are quietly dealing with something like this and they are ashamed to talk about it. These are incredibly addictive drugs that have taken the place of the beer, the joint or whatever it was that some of us experimented with at that age. This is not a scare tactic. A friend of your child’s — who does just as well at school, who comes from a family with the same social or economic status as you — will get their hands on these pills. It’s not the family’s fault or the kids or the teachers, churches, doctors, counselors or friends who are all equally powerless against opioid addiction. We need to protect our children now.
We didn’t get our week with Jacob. He died June 27 at 5:11 a.m. This is for Jacob. His life and death will count for something. This is our “something.”