KENNEBUNK, Maine — On the evening of Nov. 23, just a few days shy of Thanksgiving, Mona Descoteaux received the worst news of her life.

Her beloved son and only child, Jason Laprel, was dead at the age of 35.

The cause? A heroin overdose.

“My heart just dropped when I found out and I still feel completely torn up inside,” she said. “My beautiful son is gone and I will never see him again.”

Descoteaux said she is sharing the gut wrenching story of losing her son to a heroin overdose in hopes that it may prevent another family from experiencing the same tragedy. “If just one person can be saved or if someone learns something that could save someone else’s life, it’s worth it,” she said. “I don’t want his death to be in vain.”

Born and raised in York County, Jason Allen Laprel was a shy and thoughtful child growing up. He enjoyed art, music, skateboarding and spending time with his many cousins. Laprel graduated from Kennebunk High School in 1997 and worked locally as both a chef and a self-taught tattoo artist for many years. When he was 27, his son Gavin was born. Descoteaux remembered the day her son became a father.

“Jason was so proud. Gavin was the light of his life,” she said. “He lived for that boy and was a really good dad for many years, until the drug took over.”

Friends and relatives described Jason as having an upbeat personality, always smiling, joking around and laughing.

“Everybody loved him. I honestly don’t think there was anyone who didn’t like Jason,” his mother said. “He could walk into the room and everyone was happy to see him.”

A few years after turning 30, all of the characteristics that Laprel was so well-known and loved for changed, seemingly overnight. He had begun shooting heroin.

Just why Laprel shot up for the first time is a mystery, but his mother has no doubt that first try was all it took to get him hooked.

“When I found out it was heroin, I had the worst feeling,” she recalled. “I felt like he was being handed a death sentence and I prayed that it wouldn’t take his life.”

‘Nobody chooses to become addicted to drugs’

Lori Helseltine, a registered nurse with experience working with heroin addicts at a methadone clinic, described the grip heroin addiction has on users and how methadone is used as a treatment for those fortunate enough to get help.

“Imagine turning on a light switch,” she said. “The light comes on almost instantaneously and without thought. Now imagine that the switch is in your brain and you can never reach it to turn it off. That is addiction in a nutshell. I know that this sound very simplistic, but it truly is.

“Once those receptors are activated, there is no turning it off; it is a lifelong battle from there on in. Nobody chooses to become addicted to drugs, nor do they choose to fail in their treatment. Most people do not understand heroin addiction and even less people understand Methadone maintenance therapy for addicts. When used appropriately, Methadone will not get an addict high, it merely blocks the receptors in the brain that make them crave heroin or other opiates. It’s like putting on blinders to block out the light.”

Descoteaux described the rapid decline in her son’s health after he started using heroin. “He lost a lot of weight, his face was gaunt and his eyes were a mess,” she said. “His arms were just covered with bruises, collapsed veins and track marks. Nothing mattered to him anymore – just getting the drugs and maintaining the high.”

The decline was rapid, she said.

“All of this happened in a matter of two years before he died,” she said. “I still don’t understand how it all happened. He had a family that adored him, a support system, a child and we all tried to help him, but we couldn’t.”

Descoteuax recalled some of the desperate attempts she made to try to get help for her son when he was alive, including a time when she begged the distinct attorney to get her son treatment when Laprel was in court for a heroin-related charge.

“I pleaded with him [the D.A.] when Jason was being charged with a felony for drugs,’ she said. “I said ‘please get him the help he needs, convicting him without getting him help is not going to do anything. He needs help – I am begging you as his mother.’”

Descoteaux said her cry for help was ignored. Laprel was charged and sentenced, but not treated.

When Laprel was released, he went right back to the streets and picked up where he left off, his mother said. Descoteaux said she again looked for help, this time she reaching out directly to healthcare facilities and treatment centers with no luck.

“I called one place in York County and the first thing they asked is ‘what type of insurance does he have?’ When I told them him he didn’t have any insurance they said they would call me back — they never did,” she said. “I still wonder if they followed up and he was admitted if he would be alive today.”

This unanswered question haunts Descoteux and because of this she and her ex-husband Mark Laprel [Jason’s father] have been motivated to take action so others may not have to endure the excruciating pain that they have. The two hope to establish a fund in Jason’s name which will pay for heroin addicts without insurance to be able to get the immediate treatment they need. The fund will be named in honor of their son.

Kennebunk Police Chief Bob Mackenzie said a fund is a step in the right direction.

“Heroin is a societal problem and we as a society have to become involved,” he said. “It [heroin addiction] knows no boundaries. It can happen to anyone — and it is happening now.”

Laprel’s aunt, Alayna Laprel Smith of Arundel, said she will be helping the family with their efforts to establish this heroin addiction treatment fund.

We hope to get started on fundraising as soon as this spring,” she said. “Jason may not be with us any longer, but his legacy doesn’t end here.”

Jason’s family has also set up an education foundation for Jason’s son. Those who wish to contribute may do so by sending donations to: Gavin Laprel Education Fund, c/o Ocean Communities Federal Credit Union, P.O. Box 1961, Biddeford, ME 04005.