‘Every day is a struggle’


(Editor’s note: This is the fourth story in a series of articles about the fentanyl crisis that has killed thousands of people in Oklahoma and across the nation.)

By John Dobberstein, Editor

Gavin Long was known by his family and friends as somebody who loved people. Although the Union High School graduate liked to stay busy, he was known for making time for his family. He especially liked entertaining the young children for hours, relishing the smiles he saw on their faces, Gavin’s family said.

But the 24-year-old also struggled with the effects of a traumatic childhood. He was living in Pryor, Okla., with his girlfriend when his life ended last year in a restaurant parking lot in Catoosa, just a few days short of his 25th

Family members said Gavin had been clean for a year when he came in contact with someone who had gave Gavin drugs on Aug. 31.

The drugs, according to police, turned out to be laced with fentanyl. Police reportedly have surveillance video showing the drug dealer left the parking lot at one point but came back later, opened the door to Long’s car and saw him in distress, then shut the door and left. The dealer has been charged in Rogers County with aggravated drug trafficking.

When it started

Chris, Gavin’s stepfather, and his mother Delana Pritchard said they were blindsided by Gavin’s death, because there were periods where his life was going well. But Chris alluded to the fact his stepson came from a difficult childhood and poor family influences that weren’t easy to overcome.

Gavin started dabbling in drugs when he was 15, and it started with smoking marijuana. When he reached 17 or 18, he was ready to move out.

On the day Gavin passed he had apparently met someone at the Applebee’s restaurant in Catoosa and had taken drugs. At some point, Chris says, the dealer got out of Gavin’s car and left the area. Chris said there is surveillance video footage of the man returning later to Gavin’s car, opening the door, seeing Gavin in distress, then closing the door and leaving the parking lot.

Gavin’s family filed a missing persons report with Catoosa police, and after they pinged his cell phone he was found in a short time.

The alleged drug dealer, Garland Arthur Williams, was eventually identified as a suspect for trafficking fentanyl and arrested by Catoosa police. 

He’s been charged with aggravated trafficking of illegal drugs and bond has been set at $750,000. A preliminary hearing is next month, although the case is still under investigation by police and the district attorney’s office pending the results of further lab tests and a medical examiner’s report.

“He could have made a phone call. He could have got somebody to help. He could have done something to save his life,” Chris said of Williams. “You're a drug dealer, man. You should have some responsibility for your clients. Keep some Narcan on you, in your vehicle. If you’re going to sell drugs, keep something to combat it.”

Gavin loved people, but at times he would call drug users he associated with as his friends, much to the chagrin of his parents, who tried to convince him otherwise. They pleaded with him to leave the orbit of bad influencers.

“Everybody in your contact list, get away from everybody. Do not talk to anybody. And you know, the first time he started really doing good was when we took his phone, we took everything. He was a grown man. And we had to treat him like he's 16,” Chris said. “I told him, ‘I'm not going to let you fail man. Not on my watch.’

“And I’ll just be really honest, he was telling us stories about living with roommates and they kept getting broke into and Gavin said, ‘Hey, you know, I’m not going to be part of that, I’m out of here.’

“And then he’d go to some other place and they got broke into. It wasn’t until down the road that I realized Gavin was the one doing it. They’ll do what they have to do to pay for their habits. And when you start seeing something like that’s out of the ordinary with your child, it’s time to start asking some questions and really put a thumb on it and stop them before it gets too late.

“If I would have really cracked down then Gavin would be alive today. And I believe that with all my heart.”

The mental illness link

After Gavin passed, Delana and Chris discovered a letter that he wrote during one of his stints in rehab. Chris lamented trauma Gavin had suffered in his childhood being exposed to drugs through his family, the burden of depression and not being willing or able to express that to his family.

In the letter he admitted giving up jobs, relationships and a normal life for addiction, lamenting that he did well in school and had lots of friends. He said Delana’s family wanted the best for him and to focus on school.

Chris and Delana try to remember the good times, like when Gavin was the caretaker. He lived with his grandparents for 5 months during the COVID-19 pandemic and spent time changing their bedding, making sure they had clean clothes and that they were fed. He wasn’t doing much or going anywhere, just helping them day and night.

“And then they got well, and the next thing you know, something triggered him,” Chris recalled. “He would go months and months and not do anything. And then something would trigger it or something would happen.”

Delana said many parents talk to their children about depression but if no help is sought, mental illness becomes a trigger for substance abuse.

“They become an addict once they try something. That's the reason some of us can try it once and stop while others try it the first time and they're hooked. If you would’ve met Gavin, you would have seen he was a kind, caring, loving person and he would do anything in the world for you. I just wish that we could have saved him.”

Chris suggests parents pay close attention to the friends their children keep and try to create an interaction. “Talk to them, ask them questions. Look at their mannerisms. Do they keep their morality? If they're not good, kick them out of your house and make your kids stay there and just tell them ‘No, this isn’t going to happen.’”

“When stuff comes up missing, or if a child comes up missing for hours at a time or maybe even days at a time – anything that’s out of the ordinary – you have to really focus on. And you’ve got to really hammer down on that with your children. Where were they at? What were they doing? Why were they there? How come you didn’t answer your phone?”

He added, “There are a lot of people out there that are not aware just like we weren’t. And I feel like it's up to us to get the word out.”

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