Buffalo, N.Y. - Five months after their son Michael's death, Julie and Avi Israel of North Buffalo still have a very difficult time talking about him.
Julie Israel: "I miss everything about him."
Avi Israel: "I miss my son, everyday, everyday. I go to sleep at night thinking about him and I wake up thinking about him."
Michael Israel loved architecture, he put together a video as part of a student project for Channel 17.
Michael was also an artist who loved to sketch, a photographer, and a good kid.
Julie Israel: "The way I describe Michael is he's the one that would always put the smile on your face, no matter what, always."
But over the last two years of his life, Michael Israel was also something else: a drug addict.
Michael Israel got his drugs from his doctors legally.
Michael had Crohn's disease - a painful condition of the gastro-intestinal system.
Michael was diagnosed with the disease when he was 12 and for the next six years was treated by pediatricians.
Once he turned 18 though Michael switched gastro-intestinal, or G.I., doctors.
Avi Israel: "He had to move on to an adult G.I. and that's when his troubles started."
Those troubles started when Michael was prescribed Hydrocodone for his pain by his new doctor.
Hydrocodone is a synthetic form of heroin.
Scott Brown: "At what point does Michael come to you and say I think I have an addiction problem?"
Avi Israel: "Michael came to me in December of last year, he said 'pops I have a problem, I can't control myself,' and I said Ok we'll tell the doctor and we'll see what we can do about it. I alerted his surgeon that Michael does have an addiction problem, and I got one of those taps on the shoulders and I got dismissed as 'Michael needs it right now', sort of like (the doctor was saying) I know what I'm doing."
Despite his parents' concerns, Michael's doctor continued to prescribe him Hydrocodone.
After his death, Michael's parents got an court order to obtain the records from his pharmacy and they shared those records with us.
On February 23rd Michael was prescribed 40 Hydrocodones.
Just a week later on March 2nd he was prescribed another 40 pills.
Then on March 18th another 30 pills.
And nine days later on March 27th, 75 more pills.
Michael then had a major stomach surgery in April.
Avi Israel: "Michael again when he came out of the hospital said I'm having a problem with the pain killers. And that's when we insisted Michael going into detox. And he spent a week in detox."
Scott Brown: "Did that help?"
Avi Israel: "It helped him for a couple of days."
But right after that, Michael's parents believe his doctor resumed prescribing him Hydrocodone. They are now seeking a court order to get his records from second pharmacy.
Throughout this time, Michael kept a diary. His parents agreed to share parts of it with us.
These are some of the last entries from it:
"I will never find solace and be content with my life as long as I chronically abuse drugs," Michael wrote.
"I have to dry out and give sobriety a shot. I'm only so sorry for being so selfish to my mom and dad who gave me so much in this life and this world. I wasn't able to find the means to survive, that is not your fault it is mine. Maybe in the next life I can find some happiness."
On Saturday, June 4th, after an argument with his parents, Michael agreed to try detox again and called his drug counselor.
His parents say the counselor told Michael she could not find a bed for him.
Avi Israel: "Michael handed me the phone and I'll never forget the look on his face, he made up his mind that moment that nobody cares for me, the look on his face was nobody gives a damn. And he went into our bedroom and locked the door. I asked him to open up the door and he didn't answer me.
"He had a shotgun, I heard the shotgun cocked and I screamed to call 911. I heard the shot and I kicked the door open and there was my son laying there. I grabbed him and held him in my hand and I told him how much I loved him and watched the life go out of him, I watched him take his last breath.
"This should have never happened, this should have never happened."
Michael Israel was just 20 years old.
Scott Brown: "What do you think killed Michael?"
Julie Israel: "Clearly the addiction killed Michael. Avi and I both feel very strongly that had Michael not been addicted to his pain medication he would be with us today."
Scott Brown: "Why haven't you sued over Michael's death?"
Julie Israel: "That was never a consideration for Avi and I, that won't bring Michael back either. I think for us we really wanted to do something positive in Michael's memory."
What the Israels want to do is have the state set up a central registry system with the Department of Health where doctors must check to see what other drugs their patients may be receiving from other doctors, and that pharmacists must immediately report when they've dispensed a controlled substances to someone.
That way any pharmacist can check the registry to determine if patients are trying to obtain pain killers from more than one pharmacy.
Avi Israel: "Had we had a system in place where Michael would have been registered as a person with addiction, no doctor should be able to fill any of those prescriptions. No pharmacy should be able to fill any of those prescriptions. We don't have a system, we don't have a system.
"And until we have something put in place, we're going to have a lot more Michaels who are going to die."
Shortly after Michael's death, the Israels met with state Senator Pat Gallivan, who introduced a bill in the state legislature that would require doctors to check the Health Department registry and for pharmacists to be given access to it.
Scott Brown: "If you were a betting man, what do you think the chances are of passage next year?"
State Senator Gallivan: "I'd say chances are very good, it's too bad another tragedy had to happen to do something about it. But I think now the momentum is there and there enough people who are trying to work toward the same end that we should be able to be successful during the next legislative session. I will be working tirelessly to get this done."
When Michael's parents claimed his body from the coroner's office they were given a manila envelope - it contained what he had in his pockets when he killed himself.
Avi Israel: "This is Michael Israel: a black wallet, driver's license, a visa card, his keys and a dollar and nine cents. This is why we're doing all this- we're doing all this because we need desperately, desperately need a health care system to stop this kind of thing. And if we don't get it, there'll be a lot more parents getting these yellow envelopes."
WEB EXTRA: Share your thoughts on the proposed legislation with State Senator Pat Gallivan. His district office phone number is (716) 656-8961.
If you or somebody you know needs help dealing with substance abuse problems, the following organizations can help:
Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse
- 1625 Hertel Avenue, Buffalo. (716) 831-2298
ECMC Division of Chemical Dependency
- Downtown: 1280 Main St. Buffalo. (716)883-4517
- Northern Erie Clinical Services: 2282 Elmwood Ave. Kenmore. (716) 874-5536
Mid Erie Counseling and Treatment Services
Kids Escaping Drugs
B.I.L.Y. (Because I Love You) Meetings
- Amherst: Montgomery Park Senior Living Complex.
6363 Transit Rd. East Amherst. (716) 688-2568.
- Lancaster: Faith United Methodist Church. 5505 Broadway. (716) 685-4328
- Tonawanda: (716) 879-6631
- Buffalo: (716) 695-7586 and (716) 990-2452