Josiah’s story – part four ‘Reflections of a father’

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Jason and Maria Kouts: A family is forever changed after a single, tragic mistake.

Editor’s note: This is the fourth part of our weeklong series delving into the tragic death of Josiah Kouts, 25, from a heroin overdose and what is being done in the aftermath.

By Jon Johnson

Just one bump, that’s all it took. It was just one bump that caused a family to fall to their knees and led to pain and torture in multiple lives. It was just one bump that caused a community to rally and stand up against a scourge that is destroying a generation. Because it was just one bump that cost 25-year-old Josiah Kouts his life.

“It was horrific,” Safford Mayor Jason Kouts said about discovering his son. “I got into the bedroom. I had to unlock the door and that was the worse thing to ever see. You obviously knew the moment you saw him, but still, I went to him and touched him, and he was cold. I just freaked out and started screaming. Instantly, you want to die yourself. At least, for me, I wanted to touch my son. I wanted to touch a warm body again.”

Contributed Photo/Courtesy Jason and Maria Kouts: Josiah Kouts goofs around with his sister, Montana Vawter, on Halloween.

Josiah, like others in the Gila Valley, had struggled with opiate addiction for years. He had been to rehab multiple times and appeared, at least on the face, of being in a good place when he succumbed to the temptation and went for a hit.

For those who aren’t familiar, a bump is a very small unit of measurement for a drug. In the case of black tar heroin, which is the prevalent form in the Gila Valley, it can cost as little as $5.

But the heroin Josiah had that night wasn’t the same as most bought and sold in the area. The heroin he tried had a brand name of “Fire” by the person he obtained the drug from, and was likely either mixed with or was pure fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, which, according to the Centers for Disease Control, is up to 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more potent than heroin.

Photo By New Hampshire State Police Forensic Lab: On the left is a lethal dose of 30 milligrams of heroin and on the right is a lethal dose of 3 milligrams of fentanyl.

The afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 23, will be burned into Jason and Maria Kouts’ memory forever. Sirens wailed as police and paramedics arrived at the Kouts’ home. To avoid a conflict, Thatcher Police took over the investigation into Josiah’s death. As of Wednesday, the investigation was still listed as ongoing.

Text messages on Josiah’s phone detail the transaction; details that police have reviewed. The last text message from the “friend” who supplied the drug simply stated, “Josiah?” with no response.

The Kouts family is taking the reality of the situation day by day, leaning on friends, family, and their church to help get them through.

In January, Josiah was laid to rest a stone’s throw from his family’s home but the memory of him lives on in the lives of those who knew him best and those who want his death to not go gently into that cold dark night but rather serve as a beacon for hope and change.

“It’s devastating, that that’s just what the kids don’t understand is how one slip-up can end it all,” Jason said. “Out of all this, as a community, if we can save one person than it wasn’t a wasted life. Our goal is to help as many as we can. When we bounce back from this, it’s going to be strong. Behind every successful man is a great woman and my wife is a very supportive woman. She and I will run with this with our whole hearts.”

Part five “Aftermath and moving forward” will be published Friday.

To view the other articles in this series, click on the corresponding link.

Part 1      Part 2     Part 3    Part 5