PORT ANGELES — When Zachary Oravetz agreed two months ago to share his story of drug addiction and recovery at the Overdose Awareness Day walk in Port Angeles, he couldn’t predict what would happen Aug. 20.
On that day, his mother gave him a call he will never forget: His little brother, Beau Silvas, 22, had died of a heroin overdose.
“When I picked up the phone, she said my name,” said Oravetz, who nearly died of a heroin overdose himself.
“In that one word, I felt the grief, the pain, the anguish.
“That conversation only had three words in it: ‘Zach, Beau’s dead.’ ”
Silvas’ death reaffirmed the need for Oravetz to publicly share his story during the rally and walk Tuesday evening.
From his perspective as a recovering heroin and methamphetamine addict, the only way he can help is to show there is a way to overcome addiction, he said.
“It just drives me to help you guys, to help everyone else who wants to choose life over death,” he said.
“That’s the only thing I can see that God wants me to do in my life today.”
Oravetz was one of several speakers at the rally Tuesday, in which some 200 to 300 people gathered on the Clallam County Courthouse steps and walked to City Pier to hear speakers.
Speakers also included representatives of law enforcement, a pastor and a father dealing with the loss of his son.
One goal of the event was to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and to show the community wants to help.
Silvas was a loyal person who was big on family, Oravetz said. Even while he was actively using heroin, Silvas helped his grandmother and great-grandfather.
“His dreams in life were to be successful, to have a family, get married, to have kids,” he said. “He was the most loyal, loving person you’ll ever meet.
“He just couldn’t get off drugs.”
Oravetz, who said he came from a family of addicts, knows all too well the effects of overdose.
His first experience with an overdose was when he was 5 when his mother overdosed. She survived and now works in a chemical dependency program, he said.
He told the crowd he remembers seeing her apparently lifeless body, thinking it was a joke. Once he realized it wasn’t, he got help.
Oravetz’s drug use started with marijuana and alcohol when he was about 17.
He began experimenting with other drugs such as Ecstasy and mushrooms before finding prescription opioids. He was addicted instantly, he said.
“I didn’t think of it as a street drug, as heroin and meth,” Oravetz said. “It was more socially acceptable and it was readily available.”
Within nine months, he lost a job that he had had for about five years, lost everything he owned and started committing crimes to pay for his addiction, he said.
After about another year of using, Oravetz was broke, homeless and dopeless.
“I committed some crimes that hurt some people that really cared about me and I cared about, and I spent two years in prison for it,” he said. When he was released in 2011, he stayed out of trouble and stayed clean, he said.
What he found when he got out of prison was everyone he had used pills with was now shooting heroin.
“It blew my mind and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” he said. “After staying clean and watching this around me, it had a pull on me and I wanted to try it.”
In March 2013, he smoked heroin for the first time. A week later, he was injecting.
Oravetz overdosed the last time he used heroin, which was Sept. 14, 2014. He planned on going to inpatient treatment but needed to get one last fix, he said.
He woke up the next day to a nurse at the jail telling him he was extremely lucky to be alive. Medics used Narcan, a drug that counteracts opioid overdoses, on Oravetz three times in 12 hours to save his life.
It took coming within inches of death for Oravetz to change his perspective on life.
“At that point in time, I chose life and I’ve stuck with it ever since,” he said, a decision he hopes others will make before it’s too late. “It’s a small town and it’s a big problem.”
Chuck Henke, a retired corrections officer from the Clallam County Sheriff’s Office, has seen that problem from inside the system.
When he was with the Sheriff’s Office, he had the privilege of talking with many men and women struggling with addiction, he said.
“They would tell me of their dreams, their desire to change the direction of their life,” he said. “Some were successful and I’m really thankful of that.
“But it always saddened me when I would hear that one of them lost the battle.”
What is needed is less judging and more love, he said, urging those who attended to stick to those they know who are struggling with addiction.
“Sticking with them doesn’t mean you shield them from the consequences of their harmful choices,” he said. “What it does mean is you commit to walk alongside them through this journey in all aspects of their recovery.”
Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict told the crowd that the criminal justice system is not fit to deal with the issues of addiction.
“Unfortunately, we’re asked to protect people from themselves,” he said.
The best outcome for addicts in the criminal justice system is when they get involved with drug court, which has about a 60 percent success rate, he said.
“The success you get is going to be from groups gathering like this,” he said. “You’re going to do it one person at a time.”
A memorial service for Silvas is set for 1 p.m. Saturday at Independent Bible Church.
“Anyone who knew him is more than welcome” at the church at 112 N. Lincoln St., said Oravetz.
Since Silvas died, donations have poured in to help the family financially.
Oravetz set up a GoFundMe page, https://www.gofundme.com/2w7a9vhg, with a goal of $3,000 to help with costs.
By Wednesday, the goal was nearly reached, with most of the donations coming in from strangers.
“It has been a blessing, and our family can’t thank everyone enough,” Oravetz said.
The donations help his family spend their time mourning Silvas instead of stressing over funeral costs, he said.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].