Former Naperville heroin addict's son dies from overdose

Tim Ryan's oldest son wanted to follow his father's career footsteps into a job as an executive recruiter.

Instead, 20-year-old Nicholas "Nick" Ryan wound up following his dad down another path, toward drug addiction.

Early Friday morning, at a friend's house in Hinsdale, Nick overdosed on heroin and died, his father said Monday.

Nick's death came less than a week before his father - a former heroin addict himself - was scheduled to host a training session on how to use Naloxone, the opiate overdose reversal drug also known as Narcan.

Nick had overdosed twice before but was saved by paramedics. He had been in and out of rehab programs and jail, but his father said he hid his heroin use from many.

"A lot of people didn't know that Nick did heroin. They thought he was just tired and laid down and I think they went in the other room to watch TV or play video games," said Tim Ryan of Naperville. "By the time they came back he had unfortunately passed."

As a former addict, Tim Ryan said he's "on a mission" now more than ever to equip relatives and friends of drug users with Narcan to keep their loved ones alive.

He said the training will go on as scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wheatland Salem Church, 1852 W. 95th St., Naperville.

Nick Ryan grew up in Naperville and Oswego and recently had been living with his grandmother in Aurora. His father said Nick began experimenting with drugs at 13 or 14, first with marijuana and drinking, then with ecstasy and other hard drugs.

"He might even have followed in my footsteps because I was a heroin addict for a number of years," Ryan said. "He said to me one day, 'Well dad, you're a successful drug addict.' I said 'No, Nick, I'm not. I struggle every day.'"

Growing up, Nick was outgoing. He loved skateboarding and wakeboarding, and his father said he had gotten into sky diving.

"Unfortunately, he struggled with the disease of addiction," Tim Ryan said. "The disease got him before he was willing and able to surrender to his addiction."

The DuPage County coroner's office said toxicology tests have not yet confirmed the cause of Nick Ryan's death. So far, 16 deaths this year in DuPage have come as a result of heroin overdoses.

On the day Nick died, his father marked 21 months of being clean and sober. Tim Ryan said he knows how challenging it is to break free of the chains of addiction, so he started an opiate recovery group about two months ago that meets every Thursday evening at Wheatland Salem.

Ryan said parents come to group meetings with their children who are struggling with addiction. Certified counselors talk with the parents about setting boundaries, stopping behavior that enables the drug addict to keep using, getting addicts into treatment and finding long-term sober living environments.

"It's hard for a lot of these younger people because they've got to change every aspect of their life and a lot of them think they're invincible," Ryan said.

But Nick's death is another sign that's not true.

The family will host a visitation from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wheatland Salem Church in Naperville, followed by a funeral service at 7 p.m. at the church. Nick is survived by his parents, Tim and Shannon, who are now divorced, and three younger siblings.

"He was loved by many," Tim Ryan said. "And this can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime."

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