‘He was the most fun-loving guy’
(Editor’s note: This is the sixth 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
Joseph Solomon wasn’t what most people would expect if they were meeting someone who is struggling with addiction. Solomon had a bright smile and people gravitated toward him.
He had nicknames like Jo Jo, Dog Boy, Dingo, Little Joe, Taco Joe or Joby because of his charismatic personality, jokester behaviors and an enormous heart and passion for helping others. He had a love for the great outdoors and grilling spicy food.
“He was the most fun-loving guy. A friend of his once said the party didn’t start until Joe was there,” recalls his mother, Nancy. “He was always working out 24/7 or exercising or lifting weights or going to the casino or hunting or fishing. He had the most beautiful smile you've ever seen.”
After graduating from St. Gregory’s University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, he had a successful career selling industrial supplies in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
But Joseph also struggled with the temptations of an addictive personality. He went through two 30-day stints in drug rehab, and a series of circumstances led to some arrests for drug possession. He also lost his job and had been around an ex-wife who was also doing drugs, Nancy said.
“We sent him to rehab twice, and both times he wanted to go. He didn't like what the drugs were doing to him,” she said.
‘He didn’t deserve to die’
On Dec. 1, 2021, Nancy’s husband found Joseph, 40, a Union High School graduate, in their house in “horrific condition” after arriving home.
They called 911. But Nancy, being a longtime nurse, knew her son was gone – less than a week before he died, Joseph was supposed to move away from Tulsa and participate in drug court and hopefully wipe his record clean.
An autopsy determined that Solomon had been given 100% fentanyl. Nancy questions whether she should have tried to revive her son, but knew they’d be faced with a decision whether to leave Joe on life support due to brain damage he likely suffered.
The family had an IV dose and two nasal doses of Narcan in the house, which Joseph had requested to be kept there, but it was too late.
“It was the most tragic day in our lives. It’s just been the most heartbreaking experience ever,” Nancy said. “Not only finding him that way, just the realization that he’s never coming back. And it was just so unexpected.
“He didn’t deserve to die. He didn’t want to die. We had plans for the next day. We saw him that night before bedtime. He said, ‘Mom, let’s go get a massage tomorrow and let’s go to a Chinese buffet.
“He told me that he knew he needed God, and he asked me to pray with him, and I did. And he accepted Christ. And that’s the saving grace in all this.”
‘That’s my struggle’
Nancy said she can’t discuss more specifics around the circumstances of her son’s death because it may still be under investigation. “What I struggle with is wanting to make the person that he got (the drugs) from pay and forgiving that person. I struggle with that. That's my struggle.”
Throughout Joseph’s problems with addiction times in the last 2 years, Nancy said everybody would suggest tough love.
“I’m not so sure about that because it didn’t get us anywhere in the end,” she said. “I felt like we enabled him in a lot of ways, but we just wanted to be there for him. I mean, we were there with him every step of the way trying to help him, trying to protect him.
“Being a nurse and working all the time, I guess I should have known more about addiction. I didn’t really, you know, I just thought if we sent him to rehab, it’s going to be all over,” she added.
Nancy implored people – especially teen-agers who might succumb to peer pressure – not to risk it. “Don’t ever take anything from anybody, even if it’s your friend or if you know them,” she said. “Even if it’s Tylenol, you don’t take anything from anyone.”