In The News

Zach Crotty, of Colden, passed away from an accidental overdose in 2009. His parents have vowed to share his story and help end addiction.

Zach’s Story: Turning tragedy into triumph

Tuesday August 5, 2014 | By:Colleen Mahoney | Social /

COLDEN—Suzanne Crotty, like any other mother, speaks to her son Zach often. Zach, however, doesn’t respond, not in the traditional sense. Suzanne and her husband Mark lost their son Zach to an accidental overdose in 2009 when he was 19 years-old. In those four years, it’s been a roller coaster ride, the Crottys said, but Suzanne often receives signs from Zach.

Last week, Crotty had six encounters she believes were at the hand of her son, including one that involved James Taylor and another concert-goer. The Crottys were in line to meet Taylor at his concert when a women standing next to them asked him to play “Suzanne,” referring to Taylor’s song “Fire and Rain.” She told Taylor that her son had just relapsed, Suzanne Crotty got the chills.

“That was Zach,” she said as she retold her encounter. “That lady could have been ahead of me, behind me, she could have called [the song] “Fire and Rain,” but she was right next to me. That was Zach.”

After Zach passed, the Colden couple went through his room, and learned a lot more about their son. He had journals filled with writing about his addiction to prescription opioids and how the life he was living wasn’t the life he wanted for himself.

“Zach loved helping people,” Mark Crotty said. “He was a good kid.”

It is with that legacy of Zach, in addition to the current addiction epidemic, that the Crottys began their journey to help other parents and individuals who are affected by addiction.

The Crottys, with help from The Buffalo News reporter Sue Schulman, have decided to publish Zach’s writings, first on a blog and eventually in book form.

With a push from Dr. Richard Blondell, who had treated Zach, the Crottys began telling their story in hopes it would spark a conversation about addiction.

“[Dr. Blondell] said we need to be able to get this information out there and it’s going to take someone like [the Crottys] to put people together and tell our story,” Suzanne Crotty said. After that conversation, the Crottys began speaking with senators and other politicians to get something done.

“Addiction used to be something you kept in the family,” Mark Crotty said. “Even with Zach, we didn’t say too much.” The Crottys realized, however, that addiction was becoming more and more of an issue, including in the Western New York region.

“Zach used to go to Springville to get drugs,” Suzanne Crotty said. “It’s happening here. To our kids.”

The Corttys, with help from local politicians, were able to get the I-STOP Act passed in New York. I-STOP, which will be effective March 2015, requires all medications prescribed to a patient to be electronically filed and transmitted so anyone practicing medicine is aware of a patient’s regiment.

The Crottys explained that their hope is that the I-STOP Act will cut down on addicts going to different doctors, lying about their prescriptions and getting more drugs. They have also been involved in prescription drug drop days, and have participated in speaking at local high schools.

The Crottys stopped speaking at high school when it got too hard to relive their story, but know their fight isn’t over.

“Speaking on social media, the blog and the book, it gives us the chance to do it at our own pace,” Suzanne Crotty said. “If one day I don’t want to write, I don’t.”

While posting about Zach, and reliving the pain, isn’t easy for the Crottys, they know the importance of what they’re doing.

“It won’t bring Zach back, but I’ll keep telling Zach’s story, so other people can share it,” Suzanne Crotty said. “Even if we help just one person, we’ve made a difference.”

The blog, “Zach’s Story,” posts one chapter a month but houses other information for battling addiction. The first chapter was posted in July and the second is set to appear later this month. For more information on the Crottys’ work, or to read Zach’s Story, visit or


Zach’s Story works to teach kids, doctors about drug addiction
Thursday July 31, 2014 
| By:Lizz Schumer, The Sun editor| News

HAMBURG — Zach Crotty loved snowboarding and music. He serenaded his mom, Suzanne, with rap songs in the car, and mixed his own music before Garage Band existed. His favorite singers were Lil’ Kim, Tupac and Bob Marley. He tried drugs to overcome his anxiety as a teenager and got dragged into a world he never could have imagined and ultimately, was unable to escape. Zach Crotty died of an overdose at 19, on Oct. 26, 2009. Today, his parents, Mark and Suzanne, along with Buffalo News reporter Sue Schulman, are telling his story, one chapter and one month at a time.

“I’ve worked as a newspaper reporter for over 30 years, and have met thousands of people and written thousands of stories. But few, if any, stories touched me the way the Zach Crotty story did,” Schulman explained. “I think it’s because I’m a parent. At the time, all three of my kids were teenagers. The Crottys had experienced what has to be the worst pain imaginable – losing a child. Yet they were willing to open up their house and their hearts, to share Zach’s story, to share their grief, in hopes of preventing others from dying and preventing more parents from experiencing the pain that has remained with them since Zach died.”

Suzanne and Mark Crotty decided to start Zach’s Story, a serialized book about Zach’s journey, in his own words, in order to help other kids who might be addicted to drugs, or those who have not dabbled yet, but are in danger of addiction.

“It’s important for us to get the story out there,” Suzanne Crotty explained. “It’s important for people to know that it can happen to anyone, anywhere. If you saw where we live, out in Colden, you’d think, ‘People do drugs there?’ But they do.”

Crotty said she also wants to help combat the stigma attached to drug addiction. “It can happen to anyone,” she said. “Zach was a good kid. He was smart. He was happy-go-lucky. Addiction is a disease. It doesn’t matter who you are. But what he took controlled who he became.”

To figure out who that Zach became, the Crottys and Schulman have worked to string together a timeline of his life using the writing he left behind.

“He was always writing in a journal, ever since he had his composition notebooks at Colden Elementary,” Crotty said. “He had some sayings, said he wanted to help people.”

And now, with Zach’s Story, he can.

“The journal articles and other documents describe the drugs he got from friends as well as the ones prescribed by doctors,” Schulman said, of the writing she and Suzanne Crotty have been compiling. “They detail his experiences in out-patient counseling as well as in-patient rehab. And the papers include his personal feelings about his drug use, and day-to-day life experiences.”

Those day-to-day life experiences were no different than any other teen, Crotty said. He tried golf, karate and t-ball as a kid, but realized he was more interested in music and the arts as he approached high school. He worked at Kissing Bridge in Colden, first in the board shop and later as a chairlift operator, to use his love of snowboarding to make some extra money. Crotty said that she never suspected he was using that money to buy drugs.

“During the time I’ve been working on the book, I feel like I’ve gotten to know Zach,” Schulman noted. “I really like him. He was a really cool kid. He had a great sense of humor. He tried drugs to overcome his teenage anxiety, then got sucked into an addiction he couldn’t get out of - even when he wanted to get out of it.”

As Zach said himself, in his journal, “I didn’t feel like I fit in.” At first, he tried marijuana to reduce the anxiety that would leave his heart racing, his palms sweating for minutes at a time, but after awhile, he switched to painkillers. “They made me feel like a better person,” Zach said. When he took them, he didn’t have to work hard to fit in. So he took them a lot. And other drugs too.

“All it takes is one sports injury, having your wisdom teeth out,” Suzanne Crotty said. “Zach got it from kids at school, from someone else’s medicine cabinet. The latest case I heard was of a girl who’s 12 and addicted. I have a granddaughter who’s 8-and-a-half and I look at her and think, “This isn’t going to happen to you.”

The Crottys and Schulman are releasing Zach’s Story one chapter per month, in an effort to educate the public about the dangers of drug addiction and how it can affect people’s lives. Schulman meets with the Crotty’s about once per month, although it varies depending on where they are in the project, and they email back and forth in between.

“It’s very emotional. Very hard,” Crotty said, about going through her son’s old writings. “I can keep living, day to day. Sometimes, I just have to cry. And then I say, ‘OK. I’m going to cry today.’ Unless you’ve been here, you have no clue. There’s nothing else like it.”

“I developed so much admiration for the Crottys that when Suzanne said she wanted to turn Zach’s journals into a book,” said Schulman, who met the couple when she was working on a series for The Buffalo News on drug addiction, called “Rx for Danger,” “I [offered to work on the book] because I believe what she is doing will help save lives.”

Crotty hopes so, too.

“My son didn’t want to die. He took chances with drugs,” she said. “I hope to tell the story not only to kids, but to upcoming medical doctors, so they see who they’re working with. They don’t get enough education on these drugs. I hope this will have so much more impact than a textbook.”

“I’m not a role model,” Zach Crotty wrote in his journal. “I’m more of an example to learn from.”

His parents and Schulman hope others do learn from his story, one chapter, one month at a time.

“I’m not trying to change the world. I’m just trying to help our community,” Suzanne Crotty said. “And maybe save someone else’s child, some other parents, from what we’ve gone through.”

Zach’s Story can be found at


The Buffalo News in 2011 published an awarded-winning series, "Rx for Danger" that detailed the exploding problem of prescription opiod addiction in Western New York.

Read the series here:   Part I: Rx for Danger
                                  Part 2: Rx for Danger 

                                  Part 3: Rx for Danger
                                  Part 4: Rx for Danger

February 2010

Parents turn grief to action in son's death

Colden couple works to fight dangers posed by prescription, illegal drugs

News Staff Reporter
Zachary T. Crotty's bedroom in his family's Colden home remains virtually intact four months after he died from a drug overdose in a local hospital.
The walls are plastered with posters that reflect his true passions: music and snowboarding. The room greets you with large images of Snoop Dogg, Lil' Kim, Biggie, Tupac Shakur and several snowboarders.
And his bed is still made.
"A grieving mother doesn't change the sheets on her son's bed," Suzanne Crotty explained. Four months later, if she picks up his pillow or his sheets, she still can feel him and detect his scent.
Suzanne and Mark Crotty are grieving deeply over the loss of Zach, who died at age 19 on Oct. 26. The family has been told that he died from an accidental overdose, from methadone intoxication, and that other prescribed drugs in his system may have contributed to his death.
But the Crottys aren't mourning quietly — or passively. They have obtained 524 pages of his medical and drug records. They have pored over his own journal entries. They're working with police to identify the person who supplied him with illegal drugs.
And they'd like to stand on the Colden hilltops and shout out warnings to other parents and the public:
• They want other parents to clean out their medicine cabinets or lock up their prescription pills.
• They want psychiatrists to stop writing prescriptions for drugs that can interact dangerously with drugs prescribed to treat a user's addiction.
• And they want to lobby for some kind of electronic database that can keep clever young people from hopping from pharmacy to pharmacy, or doctor to doctor, to fill multiple prescriptions that supply them with too many drugs.
The Crottys even are working with officials at Renaissance House and Kids Escaping Drugs to create a support group for parents who have lost sons and daughters to drug overdoses.
Tragedies like the Crottys' often shine a large spotlight on the system's weaknesses and create momentum for laws that can help prevent similar heartache for other families.
Zach's parents clearly aren't in denial. They know — now — what a serious drug problem their son had. And they know what the drugs did to him.
"This isn't a bad kid," Mark Crotty said of his son. "This is a kid who got hooked on bad things — drugs."
"He pulled away from our family," Suzanne Crotty added. "The drugs took over his life. I don't think he could bear to let us see that part of his life. It was the drugs. They were more important than anything else."
Besides mourning the death of their son, the Crottys have to deal with what his drug habit did to their relationship with him.
They can't help but have conflicting emotions about one of their son's many journal entries written about his addiction while he was at Renaissance House in the late summer of 2008:
"It has destroyed my relationship with my parents," he wrote. "There is no relationship. Well, [there] was no relationship. But there will be a relationship. Mark my words."
But Zach ran away from Renaissance House after nine days, convincing his parents that he couldn't go back.
Once his parents were sure about Zach's serious drug use, they confronted him, and he admitted he had a narcotics problem.
"But he did not want us to know that he was into heroin," Mark Crotty said. "He made his counselors swear to keep that secret."
Like other parents who have lost a child to drugs, the Crottys wonder what they could have done differently. They supported all his efforts to get clean. At times, they tried tough love.
Once, they got a 3 a.m. call that he was in the Erie County Holding Center; they waited to pick him until later that day. And they threw him out of the house once for stealing from his mother, but he went to live with some drug dealers.
Nothing worked.
Zach, like other kids hooked on drugs, knew how to get drugs and keep his family from knowing the full truth.
As a senior at Springville-Griffith High School, he went to a friend's house twice to raise money for a senior trip, and both times he asked to use the bathroom, where he rifled through a medicine cabinet. Once he stole Ambien pills from a close relative. A friend's grandmother gave him some fentanyl patches. He learned how to forge his mother's signature and use her credit card, maybe to purchase items that friends paid him for in cash.
Zach knew all the tricks.
"He fooled us all," Mark Crotty said. "He could look you in the eye and tell you a story."
"I want parents to wake up," his wife added. "The kids lie. The drugs make the kids lie, even the good kids."
Like many parents, the Crottys were blindsided by their son's flirtation with the drug world. Growing up, he never was in trouble, but his parents noticed that he never stuck long with any activity, whether it was basketball, karate, golf or anything else.
Zach followed the typical progression: smoking in middle school; taking Lortabs and OxyContins in high school; getting into a car accident and being caught with prescription pills in his pocket; taking larger quantities of pills; and skittering out of control by his senior year in high school, developing a daily 10-bag heroin habit.
He went to an addiction specialist and was prescribed Suboxone, which is used to treat an opiate addiction. But in the last three weeks of his life, his parents have learned, he also got prescriptions from other doctors for Xanax, used to treat anxiety and panic disorder; for Keppra, used to treat seizures; and for Remeron, an anti-depressant.
It wasn't just the prescribed drugs.
When his parents searched his room after his death, they found plenty of pill bottles that didn't have his name on them.
The day before he died, Zach spent the night at his boss' house, because he had to work out of town the next day.
At about 6 that morning, the Crottys answered the dreaded phone call, that Zach had been taken to Mercy Hospital. At the hospital, they learned he had died.
His mother went in to see him.
"Zach was lying there, and he had blood coming out of his nose," she said. "They had a sheet over him. I kept stroking his head. They worked for more than an hour on him, because he was so young. They thought they could bring him back."
But they couldn't.