Friends Remember Matt Kent, Talk the Dangers of Prescription Drug Addiction
Those who knew him best talk about "the best kid they knew" and the disease of addiction.
Matt Kent's friends list the things they'll miss most: Matt's humor, the way he could pick you up if you were down, boxing together, his honesty, his charisma, the way he could be the life of the party, his great advice, his love of nature, his big, booming voice.
"When I would get bullied in high school, Matt was always the first one there to have my back," says Dan Yusupov, ALJ '08, who met Kent through his older brother Dave. "He was stronger, taller. He had this powerful voice. When he spoke people would just listen to him."
When Kent, 22, a 2007 Arthur L. Johnson graduate, was found dead at his home on Hawthorne Drive in Clark a week ago today, these young men, his childhood friends, were heartbroken to get the call they had long feared might come. Clark Police say the official cause of Kent's death is still pending autopsy reports; Kent's friends say it was a prescription drug overdose, likely a combination of OxyContin and Xanax.
"If I had to describe Matt in a sentence, I'd say he genuinely was great kid who was one of a kind and just got on the wrong track," says Kent's longtime friend Gary Carniero.
Kent's friends say it was prescription drugs and specifically the opioid OxyContin that changed their friend from someone they knew into an addict. They say a prescription for Percoset after a dental procedure was what started Kent's addiction.
"Once you hop on that train it takes off 120 miles an hour and you can’t jump off of it," Carniero says of prescription pill abuse. "To me, he's innocent. He had a great amount of potential, but it’s like once you get the hook in your mouth it’s really hard to spit it out."
Kent's friends and family did everything they could to get their friend and son back. Kent fought his addiction, too. He went to rehab multiple times. He tried his best to hop off the train, to spit out the hook.
Friends say Kent wanted to be a police officer, maybe even a state trooper. At one point in time he decided to join the Air Force. In high school, Yusupov says, Kent was never involved with any drugs and wouldn’t even smoke a cigarette.
"He joined the Air Force, but when he arrived at the base he wasn’t completely clean yet so they had to discharge him," says longtime friend Richie Lin. "He later tried to join the Army and even met with a recruiter, but they felt that with the discharge it would be hard to get him in."
He can't help but wonder how differently things might have turned out had Kent been accepted.
Lin says Kent's parents, James and Karen Kent, found out about their son's addiction when he got himself in a situation where he needed money to pay back dealers. "He had no other choice," says Lin. "If he didn’t speak up, he could’ve been killed. He feared for his life and he asked his parents for help."
After the discovery, Kent's parents took swift action to get their son help, sending him to rehab in 2009. His friends say the years that followed were tumultous, with moments of sobriety and relapse and more stints in rehab.
Kent's friends say they, too, tried to intervene. "I’ve tried helping him so many times," says Lin. "But you couldn’t help him unless he wanted help. The disease had taken over."
"As he started hanging out with different crowds, we didn’t approve of it," says Yusupov. "It became hard to trust him. Matt gave the best advice when it came to relationships, people. I just wish he took his own advice."
Still, they kept in touch and waited for the Matt they knew to come back. In recent months, the friends say Kent seemed better, happy.
"The day before he passed away we were texting and talking and he was happy and laughing," says Yusupov. "We had talked about going down the shore together over the weekend. I saw him a couple nights before, too, and he seemed really happy. I mention he had gained weight and he said that’s because he'd been clean."
Lin went as far as to give Kent a job. "I got him a job doing deliveries for my restaurant," says Lin. "He was working all right for the first week or two, but then once he started having cash in his pocket he was spending money on drugs. We had to let him go."
Kent's friends want people to know who he was and not the person his addiction turned him into. "He's had tough times, but before taking care of his problems, Matt would always help others," says Lin. "One of my friends got hurt and he was the one who took him to the hospital at 4 a.m. He was the kind of person that just always has your back. Matt is the last person I expected this to happen to. He was never like this. This stuff is not just a drug, it’s a disease."
Even when he was deeply addicted, Yusupov says Kent had moments of clarity. "When he started, it was just something he did a couple of times a week, and eventually it became part of his life," Yusupov says. "It became an everyday thing. Still, there was always a part of him where he remembered who he was before the drugs. He worked really hard to try to stay the same person."
The three friends agree that prescription pills are all too available, even in a quiet suburb like Clark.
"Whether the case is someone gets prescribed them after an injury or they're just curious, it’s as easy to get as going to Quick Chek and buying a gallon of milk," says Carniero. "Or you can just walk into someone's house and look in the medicine cabinet and find something. And even if you aren't doing it, someone else is and you're going to be around it and you’re going to be exposed to it. I'm glad I got away from the area and got into the Army when I did, or I could’ve been right there with him. This town, this whole county...it’s like a black hole."
Kent's friends want his death to serve as a warning to others.
"We've been discussing an intervention program," says Lin. "I know a lot of kids who are actually playing with this fire, and we would like to maybe go to schools and give a speech or something to show what it could do to anybody."
"We don’t need to talk more about marijuana," says Yusupov. "What no one talks about is prescription pills and heroin. Arresting people doesn't fix the problem because these people need help. From what I hear, there are a couple of kids who are going to follow Matt's path at the rate that they're going."
Indeed, others already have. Kent's death is eerily reminiscent of another recent Clark death: In November 2010, 2005 ALJ graduate Chris Pastor died following a heroin overdose. His addiction began with OxyContin, but in the end, heroin was cheaper. Pastor was prescribed OxyContin after a football injury.
In interviews with Patch, Pastor's mother Kathy said her family would not try to hide her son's addiction after his death. "I'm talking so people know it's not just in the cities and it's not just derelicts," Kathy Pastor said. "This is happening more and more in middle-class families with good kids. We need to raise awareness. And parents need to see what's really going on. Chris was an incredible person with a terrible disease."
Lin says the OxyContin and prescription pill problem isn't just a Clark problem – it's an everywhere problem. "And then they turn to heroin and soon people are dying off of dope because with they started with these medications," says Lin.
When they think about Kent, they'll remember the good things, the friends say: The way he was a good listener, someone you could always talk to. How he loved the outdoors, fishing, trance music, MMA fighting, military shows, paintballing, camping, bonfires on the beach.
"Even when he was going through everything he was going through and had a lot on his chest...even when he was at the bottom and really down in the dumps, you could still tell he was genuinely good kid," says Carniero.
If he could tell his friend anything now, Lin has a simple message: "I would tell him, 'We’re still here for you. We’re still friends.'"
Are you or someone you know struggling with addiction? Call the NJ Addictions Hotline by dialing 211 or 1-800-238-2333, which provides trained clinically supervised telephone specialists who are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to educate, assist, interview and/or refer individuals and families battling addictions. Calls are free and information shared is confidential.
In addition to interviews, Kent's sister and several other friends sent us thoughts to be included with this story. Have a memory or thought to share? Tell us in the comments.
"Matt was a loving son, brother and a loyal friend. I will always remember growing up with my big brother playing in the creek behind our house with the neighborhood kids hearing Matt's full-of-life laugh. Unfortunately, that laugh changed through the years as he battled from the sickness of addiction and depression. But Matt should be remembered for his big heart and his willingness to protect those he loved. Addiction and depression are sicknesses that are far too common theses days and should not be overlooked. If any positive should come from this tragedy it should be the wake-up call to kids and parents that are battling addiction – this can be your reality. There are sources for help and you are not alone, you are one of many dealing with these everyday challenges. You were the best brother I could have ever asked for and you didn't deserve this. Live in peace, my angel. I love you Matt. Love your little sister, Lizzy." – Liz Kent.
"There was no denying that Matt Kent had a severe drug addiction. Putting aside his addiction, he was second to no one and a role model with his loyalty and generosity. Mathew was what people could only hope to receive as a friend in their lives." – Chris Nemeth
"I'll remember Matt as the fun, outgoing, caring person he was. Whether it was going to Round Valley to enjoy nature or nighttime trips to the beach, Matt always wanted to have a good time with his friends." – Mike Giamella
"Matt gave the best advice, but I wish he took his own sometimes. Addiction was the first fight he lost and the longest battle of his life. He helped me through my toughest times and I'm happy he's finally away from all this evil the Earth brings upon us. I've had so many great memories with Matt, but our best memory was going to a trance concert because he loved music so much and it was the best time of our life." – Daniel Yusupov
"Matt Kent, my best friend, like a brother to me from the first day we starting hanging out in high school. He was such an outgoing, loving, caring friend. He loved hanging out with his friends, and he was always there for me when I needed him. All he ever wanted to do was go out and have a great time. So many great memories, I don't know where to begin. One of our best memories would be going to see Dj Tiesto because trance music was his life. He loved music so much, especially when he was sad it made him so happy no matter what. To the days of all our trance concerts, our trips to Florida and Ohio, the memories we had will always be in my heart. I will never forget the good times and the bad. Love you like a brother Matt. I will never forget you. Trance For Life." – David Yusupov
In lieu of flowers at his funeral, Kent's family collected funds for a scholarship in his name. Donations can be sent to ALJ Scholarship Fund/Matthew Kent, c/o Linda Kent-Dziadyk, 8847 Marathon Road, Niwot, CO 80503.