GARFIELD HEIGHTS -- Katie Panzarella remembers her son Kyle as a kind and loving soul but also one who became different in the darkness of addiction.
"I called heroin the beast, and, when he used heroin, he became the beast," Katie says.
Kyle Wirtz battled opiate addiction since the age of 18. But his substance abuse began with alcohol and marijuana around the age of 13. He went through rehab nearly a dozen times and overdosed at least seven times that Katie is aware of. After the first overdose, he suffered permanent brain and heart damage.
However, for the last year, Kyle had been clean and sober. He even shared his addiction experience at one of Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Astrab's Heroin in the Suburb forums. But around Valentine's day, an emotional event triggered a relapse.
"We fought so hard five years to stay alive. We fought against drug dealers. We lost everything, restarted over and over again, and he was gone," Katie says.
Kyle died Feb. 18, and Katie doesn't want another parent to experience her pain.
"If you have that sixth sense as a parent, that inkling, then it's happening. If you have a minor, you have every law on your side, use it to your advantage," Katie says.
Pay attention to the signs. She noticed her valuables disappearing.
"I went into foreclosure because he had stolen so much from me," Katie says.
She'd search her house constantly and hid her purse until the day he died.
"I had already taken his door knob off his door, so he could never lock me out. He would hide it in the ledges up above, and, another thing, spoons were missing. I even tore my room apart because kids will hide it in your room because you don't think to look in your room," Katie says.