PORTLAND -- Over the past two years, heroin overdose deaths have spiked in Oregon.
The methamphetamine epidemic is widely known around the state but the heroin epidemic has largely been out of the public eye.
"When I tell people my son died of a heroin overdose, I think they are like, 'Whoa, he must have been a bad kid,' you know, loser. He wasn't. You would never know looking at him that he was addicted to anything,” said Maggie Morelli, whose son died of a heroin overdose.
Dominic Morelli grew up in a good home, with loving parents and younger brother. School seemed easy for the teenager from Beavercreek. He was on the honor roll, and part of the Talented and Gifted program.
"He could read something and remember everything. He'd watch a TV show and remember everything from it, very good with math," Maggie Morelli said.
At age 16, Dominic got a hold of some old prescription painkillers. They'd been in the medicine cabinet and soon he was hooked, unbeknownst to his parents.
"I never noticed any change in his personality, sleeping habits, eating habits, nothing,” Maggie Morelli said.
Eventually, Dominic ran out of the pills, so he turned to the alternative. Heroin was cheaper and easier to get, and it was a decision that cost Dominic his life.
"His dad and I both had to get up early to go to work and so did he. So I'm almost done getting ready and his dad said, 'Dominic isn't up yet,'” Maggie Morelli said. “He's going to go wake him up and he said, 'Dominic, Dominic,' and he didn't answer. He was in the bathroom in the basement." Maggie Morelli found her son in a condition no parent should ever have to see.
Her 18-year old was overdosed on heroin. Sadly, police say, it's a nightmare that's repeated time and time again.
“This is something that is impacting regular families," said Sgt. Kevin Hogan with Portland police.
Last year, more than 147 people died in Oregon from heroin overdoses. Most were young men, just like Dominic.
“We really do attribute it to kids using it at an earlier age, and starting through prescription pain medication," Hogan said.
Maggie Morelli hopes that her son's tragedy will make other parents aware.
"When you say, 'My kid could never do that,' I used to say that," she said.
Heroin deaths are at record numbers and often the abuse starts in the medicine cabinet with prescription pain pills. Experts say it is critical that parents talk to their kids about the dangers of prescription drugs and keep medications that can be abused in a locked cabinet. Any old medicine should be disposed of properly.
The next National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is Saturday, April 27, 2013, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
KGW reporter Kyle Iboshi contributed to this report.