Putting a face to the opioid epidemic: Fishing and the life of Andrew Narro

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Larry Narro with his unique pike tattoo in memory of his son Andrew.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

Larry Narro shucked his T-shirtWednesday, then turned around in the clubhouse at Chicago Bow Hunters Inc. to show the tattoo on his back in memory of his son.

‘‘After he passed, I got it in honor of him,’’ Narro said. ‘‘I can’t even see the tattoo, but I know it is there.’’

A northern pike about to engulf a spinner with ‘‘Andrew’’ above it makes a spectacular tattoo.

Andrew Robert Narro died at 21 on April 29, 2017, a casualty in the opioid epidemic. That put a face to the epidemic.

Larry nominated his son for Fish of the Week when, as a young teen, Andrew caught a 25-inch largemouth bass from a pond in Lemont in March 2009. Andrew nominated himself in October 2011 for a run of pike, topped by a 36-incher, from the Des Plaines River.

Andrew Narro with a 36-inch northern pike caught from the Des Plaines River and earning him FOTW honors on Oct. 12, 2011.<br>Credit: For the Sun-Times

Andrew Narro with a 36-inch northern pike caught from the Des Plaines River and earning him FOTW honors on Oct. 12, 2011.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

I didn’t hear anything about Andrew until Larry messaged last spring, asking if I could dig up old photos. There’s only one reason somebody asks for old photos, so I asked what happened.

Larry’s answer made my blood run cold: ‘‘He had been addicted to opiates and had been clean for seven months and relapsed Friday night and passedSaturday.’’

Over the years, Larry and I exchanged notes on deer hunting and fishing. We went shed hunting once. Andrew’s death was more than just a number.

The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control are staggering: ‘‘In 2016, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids [including prescription opioids and heroin] was five times higher than in 1999. From 2000 to 2016, more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

‘‘We now know that overdoses from prescription opioids are a driving factor in the 16-year increase in opioid-overdose deaths. The amount of prescription opioids sold to pharmacies, hospitals and doctors’ offices nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2010.’’

How did a kid from Lemont add to those stats?

‘‘Once he did something, he always did it to the extreme,’’ Larry said. ‘‘If it was football, it was football. If it was skateboarding, it was all skateboarding. Fishing was his thing. God, from 12 to 17, for five years, nothing but fishing. It brought me back.’’

Andrew’s passion fired up Larry.

‘‘It changed my life, too, because I hadn’t fished since I was a teenager,’’ Larry said. ‘‘Once he got me hooked, I was hooked. Went and bought the boat when he was 13 as a Christmas present for him and I, and we fished the Des Plaines River all the time for pike.’’

It was a 10-foot Bass Raider from the old Sports Authority.

‘‘That is all he wanted to do after school: ‘Take me fishing, take me fishing,’ ’’ Larry said. ‘‘I took him to a lot of spots. He was into it beyond belief. He brought me into it. Now I am fishing junkie.’’

The change came when Andrew was 17. He had dental work on a couple of bad cavities and was prescribed promethazine.

‘‘And that was kind of it for him,’’ Larry said. ‘‘He chased after that. He would go to the dentist and say, ‘My tooth hurts, can I get some?’ He actually started going to any doctor that would write you script, and there are some unscrupulous physicians out there that will. You can tell them you have a cough or whatever, and they will prescribe it.’’

Andrew’s drug of choice was promethazine with codeine, Larry said. It affected the family. Larry and Laura Anzak Rosch eventually split.

‘‘It got bad,’’ Larry said. ‘‘He was chasing to get that stuff all the time. When he hit 19, it got really bad where we had to discuss telling him, ‘Hey, you’ve got to get help.’ Addicts don’t like hearing they need help.

‘‘Just like any other kids or other people, they get wrapped up in that, and they will take whatever they can to get that high. It changes the brain chemistry. Most people don’t understand: Once you do enough opiates, it changes your brain.’’

Family finally got Andrew into rehab. He and sister Kristin are only 16 months apart and were close.

‘‘His sister had saved his life several times,’’ Larry said. ‘‘Because he said if he wasn’t getting money, he would kill himself. She tricked him. She said, ‘There will be money here if you come home.’ We had the police take him to a five-day hold.’’

Andrew eventually went to rehab, paid for by his grandfather Robert Anzak.

‘‘He had been sober for seven months and out of rehab,’’ Larry said. ‘‘He had been sending me pictures of fishing for snook and tarpon in the canals in Florida. Not having much luck, but still giving it a whirl.’’

The last time Larry saw his son was in 2016, when Andrew came back for a court date in Cook County. It was with Larry’s mom, Marianne Ridenour, at the Home Run Inn in Woodridge.

‘‘It was a great picture,’’ Larry said. ‘‘My mom is going to be 84on Monday.’’

Andrew Narro with his grandmother, Marianne Ridenour, at the Home Run Inn in Woodridge, the favorite last photo for his father.<br>Credit: For the Sun-Times

Andrew Narro with his grandmother, Marianne Ridenour, at the Home Run Inn in Woodridge, the favorite last photo for his father.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

Months later came the relapse. On that Friday night, Larry said his son and another guy hung back. His son got his drug of choice, and Larry said, ‘‘Whatever the other guy got had carfentanil.’’

Larry thinks his son might have tried to revive the other guy and gotten the deadly carfentanil on him.

And there were two more statistics.

‘‘It is a crisis in this country,’’ Larry said.

Last fall, Larry found some solace in an article in The Atlantic, which he forwarded to his ex-wife. Rear Admiral James Wittefeld wrote about the death of his son, topped with this: ‘‘As an admiral, I helped run the most powerful military on Earth, but I couldn’t save my son from the scourge of opioid addiction.’’

Larry doesn’t reach for easy answers, but he has some solace on his back.

‘‘Every time I am out fishing, I think of my son,’’ Larry said. ‘‘On his birthday [last year], which isJuly 31, I fished the DuPage River. I caught 24 smallmouth on the DuPage, the most I ever caughtin one dayon the DuPage. And it was on his birthday. Wading. Wade and cast.’’

Andrew Narro with a 25-inch largemouth bass for Fish of the Week in March of 2009 while he was a young teen.<br>Credit: For the Sun-Times

Andrew Narro with a 25-inch largemouth bass for Fish of the Week in March of 2009 while he was a young teen.
Credit: For the Sun-Times

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