WINDSOR — Carol Buege was enraged after finding her son sick on the bathroom floor from shooting heroin. It was his second day home after more than a month of $13,000 inpatient treatment for addiction to the drug.
"I took the needle and smashed it on the counter I was so angry," she said.
Then she told her son, "Craig, I have a really bad feeling: I think you're going to die."
Six weeks later, he did.
Now Carol Buege is preparing to share his story with an educational video depicting her son's addiction.
Craig Buege's entree into heroin followed the pattern law enforcement officials describe as prevalent in Dane County. Men and women between 18 and 25 years old, many from middle-class families, experiment with prescription opiates and then move on to heroin because it offers a more intense, cheaper high.
The drug no longer carries the back-alley junkie stigma of the 1960s. Instead, heroin users are more often like Craig, a 2006 graduate of DeForest High School, where he played varsity football and was on prom court. He's described by family and friends as loving, shy, funny and fearless.
He was a charming, hard-working student who "had that all-American-boy demeanor," said Linda Yang, Buege's high school English teacher.
Buege started experimenting with OxyContin with friends in the fall of 2006. By May 2008, his parents learned he had made the switch to heroin.
Within a year, he was dead at age 20, one of eight Dane County residents who died from a heroin overdose in 2009. That was almost three times the number of people who died or were suspected to have died from the drug four years ago. At the time of his death, Buege had been laid off from two part-time jobs, but he had spoken to a recruiter and planned to enlist in the Air Force.
"He was a good kid caught in a horrible situation," said Detective James Pertzborn with the DeForest Police Department. "He understood his addiction. He was afraid of it. He was afraid for his friends. Yet he couldn't beat it."
‘It made me sick'
Craig was the middle child in the Buege household, part of a tight-knit family with an older sister and younger brother. His mother teaches piano part time and his father, Rick Buege, is a mechanic. No one thought he was the kind of kid who would get hooked on hard drugs, and no one expected the kind of emotional upheaval his addiction and death would cause.
"I think about him every day, almost all the time. I miss him terribly," Rick Buege said. "I wanted to see him become a man, have a family ... and I can't have that. There's a huge void there."
Buege's parents enrolled him in detox and joined him for counseling. They took away his cell phone and car, and they limited his access to money. Like many addicts, he would get clean, only to relapse. A couple of times, Carol Buege found him passed out.
"The look on his face - so high - it made me sick to see my son, my child, like that," she said.
After months of unsuccessful efforts to get their son off heroin, the Bueges enrolled him in a drug rehab facility in Oklahoma in December 2008. The first phase of treatment cost $13,000, and the young man was grateful.
He completed the program in January and came home. On his second day back, Carol Buege found her son sick on the floor after having shot up with heroin for the first time in weeks.
She confronted him, and he responded with a hug, trying to comfort her: "It's OK mom, I know my limits."
A few weeks later, on March 4, 2009, she found needles in his room. Craig cried when his mother showed him her discovery, and they burned the needles in the driveway to symbolize a fresh start. The next morning, she went to wake him before she left for work.
"His face was in the carpet and he was dead," Carol Buege said.
Hopes to help others
To help other families and to educate students about the dangers and realities of heroin use, Carol Buege has had the story of her son's struggle with heroin addiction made into a video she plans to distribute to area high schools and police departments.
The video captures the happy occasions in the Buege family: Craig riding his bike at 3 years old in his Superman cape; opening Christmas presents; and vacationing in the Grand Canyon.
It also starkly shows the sad: Craig slipping in and out of consciousness while high on heroin; his mother confronting him with needles she found in his room; and his friends talking about how they felt at his funeral.
Carol Buege took the footage of her son on heroin with the intention of showing him what he looked like. But she became so involved in getting him help that she never did. "I wish I had showed it to him," she said.
Now she hopes her son's tragic story keeps other young people off heroin, and she takes comfort that at least one person has already been helped.
Around the time Craig Buege died, Josie Linde, 22, was she called a "massive rampage using" after getting out of jail in February 2009 for stealing to support her habit.
But two weeks after learning through Facebook that heroin killed her childhood friend, she turned herself in to the Dane County Jail.
"If I continued to use, that would have been me," said Linde, who has survived one overdose. "I only had one choice, (that) was to get help or die. I didn't want to die."
With warrants out for her arrest, Linde went to the jail. She stayed there from March to August 2009 and entered a court-ordered drug treatment program she finished in February.
She's now attending a local cosmetology school and continuing her counseling, two activities that keep her busy almost all day - and away from heroin.
"I'm not proud of what I did, but I'm proud of what I accomplished," Linde said. "It's nice to wake up not having to worry about drugs ... finding drugs, finding money. I'll never be cured from it. I have to work at it every day to stay away from it."