CLARK, NJ – “On April 5, 2016, my son Joseph Anthony Lanza passed away of a heroin fentanyl overdose,” Jose Lanza begins. “This is his story.”
Jose Lanza shared his son’s story in a short film, at the request of the Clark Police Department. TAPinto Clark first reported in June that the film would be shown to all Arthur L. Johnson High School students as part of the Police Department’s “#NotEvenOnce” campaign.
The video was ultimately shown to all students on October 29 during the school day during a presentation given by Detetive Brian Soos of the Clark Police Department. Parents were also invited to view the video at a presentation that night.
Throughout the video, Jose discusses his son’s battle with opioid addiction, which he describes as a “demon disease.”
Born on February 19, 1993, Joseph Lanza is remembered by his father as “one of those boys that was very special to his family.”
“He and I would fish a lot, we’d camp a lot, he’d go hunting with me every now and then,” Jose says. “He had a true passion for hockey […] every single day he was outside roller-skating [or] shooting pucks.”
Jose explains that, at first, it was hard to notice Joseph’s drug use. “I never really saw too many signs of Joe starting to use drugs,” he says. “He was so involved with hockey [and] his friends.” Over time, Jose started to notice “$20 bills going out the door here [and] there,” and though he initially wondered whether he was spending this money himself, he later discovered that this loss of money was “happen[ing] around the whole family.”
“I believe it happened through an injury in hockey,” Jose continues, referring to a shoulder injury Joseph experienced while playing on his hockey team. “Kids on the team, they all, you know, have their own little thing. So, it was like ‘Here Joe, take this.’ That was the end of it. Like I said, the demon grabbed him, took him, and that was the end of that.”
“Joe got into a little bit of trouble in town, and I guess it was because of the cost of whatever he was doing,” Jose adds. “That kind of set him back.” After a series of relapses and stints in rehab, Joseph appeared to be turning his life around, meeting his girlfriend and later landing a job with the Township.
The day before his death, Joseph began working alongside his father with Clark Township’s Road Department. According to Jose, Joseph was excited to be working and was well-liked by his new colleagues.
That day, Jose says, “was the happiest day of his life [and] my life, knowing that my son was going to be set” with a career and future.
After a successful first day at work, Joseph went out that night with a few friends. Just before he left, Jose reminded him to come home early because they both had to go to work the next morning.
“The last thing he said to me was ‘I’ll see you later pops.’ because he always called me pops,” Jose says. “That was the last time I ever talked to Joe.”
The next morning, Jose found his son unconscious on the living room couch. Members of the Clark Police Department rushed to the scene and tried to administer Narcan to reverse the effects of the overdose, but Jose explains that it was “just too late.”
“I knew that he was gone. He was pale,” Jose says. “It’s the worst thing that you can possibly ever imagine. It will never leave me.”
Joseph Anthony Lanza died on April 5, 2016 at age 23.
“He tried his hardest to beat this demon that takes over. And he was one of those kids that was a fighter,” Jose explains. “The fight was just too much for him.”
Later in the video, Jose reflects on the changes in his life in the years since his son’s death.
“I’m still numb, and this is going on two years now,” Jose says, revealing that both he and his daughter, Joseph’s sister, have struggled to cope with Joseph’s death. “It’s hard going to a [family] function, and seeing all the kids that grew up together as cousins, minus one.”
Jose hopes that sharing his son’s story will make a difference in the lives of others. “I want to reach out to parents [and] to young adults in high school,” he says. “Hopefully, by you watching me here, I can maybe get through to you.”
“This epidemic will take somebody from you that you love dearly. Don’t even do it, not even once,” he continues. “There’s no need to. If you have a need for something like that, then you’re forgetting the love” of family members, friends, and others.”
Jose also tries to dispel a misconception about those who become addicted to drugs. “People think that [if] you’re an addict, you’re a junkie. That’s incorrect,” he says, explaining that his son “came from a great family, a great town, [and] great friends.”
Near the end of the video, Jose shares valuable advice for both parents and children. “Parents, spend time with your kids, don’t brush them off. Kids, talk to your parents,” he says. “Think about your choices. Parents, kids, think about it all. Don’t let this disease grab you.”
“This is a terrible, terrible disease,” he adds. “Once this demon grabs you, it won’t let you go.”
According to attendees Soos was passionate about influencing attendeesto realize never is enough when it comes to drugs. "We can’t stress enough to kids and adults just how dangerous opioids are. The program shared important information on this epidemic and its impact on our youth communicating the message 'Not Even Once,'" said Soos.
Clark Police Chief Pedro Matos explained in the video that both Clark and Union County “have experienced an alarming increase in opioid use and opioid overdose deaths over the last couple of years.” According to Matos, over 250 people in Union County have died of opioid overdoses since 2015.
Superintendent Ed Grande expressed gratitude to Soos for addressing the students. "We are very thankful to Detective Soos for giving presentations on the dangers of opioid use to our parents and all ALJ students. He also presented to our district-wide staff last May and each of these sessions was highly informative on this beyond dangerous societal trend," said Grande.