Nancy Espuche: Loss of son Lucas to opioid addiction inspires her work to destigmatize this disease

Nancy Espuche is the mother of Lucas, who passed away in 2016 at age 25 after a long battle with opioid addiction. Her story serves as a poignant reminder of the urgent need for awareness, understanding, and action in our communities in a world where the opioid crisis continues to affect countless lives.

JFCS Addiction and Recovery Services (ARS) recently had the privilege of speaking with Nancy. We hope this article will help destigmatize substance use disorder and to bring to light its relevance in every community.

‘A superstar at everything’

Nancy described Lucas as “a superstar at everything.” He was a gifted athlete, playing soccer and basketball – he participated in the Jewish Olympics, where his basketball team won a silver medal. He was an exceptional student and was accepted into competitive colleges – even after his struggle with addiction began.

Despite excelling in various areas, Lucas’ experimentation with drugs began in high school and escalated in college. “Lucas’ life was complex; he was a sick child who faced physical pain from a young age, which I’ve since come to understand as a trauma, often a precursor to addiction,” Nancy said.

He had pancreatitis as a baby that went undiagnosed until he was almost 2-and-a-half; he was exposed to opioids during hospitalizations and following a seven-hour surgery. Following Lucas’ passing, Nancy questioned if his early exposure to opioids might have contributed to his later struggles with drug experimentation. While reaching out to Lucas’ surgeon after his death, she said he too wondered if there was a potential link, emphasizing the complexity of such situations.

Seeking solace and support

Throughout Lucas’ addiction, financial, emotional, and physical challenges loomed large. “The impact was devastating,” Nancy recalled. “It drained my mind, body and soul. I was swimming in waters that were so unfamiliar and unimaginable.”

She emphasized the difficulty of loving someone battling substance use disorder (SUD). Despite the stress and grief that her son’s substance use triggered, her love for Lucas never waned. “When he needed help or would call in the middle of the night, I would not, could not dismiss him,” she said. “I love/loved him.”

Seeking solace, Nancy found support in groups like the Freedom Institute and Nar-Anon. “It was critical to find a close group of people who understood” she emphasized. Therapy sessions, getting educated, and speaking with those who shared this journey became crucial for navigating the challenges posed by Lucas’ substance use disorder.

Despite the difficulty in parenting someone in active addiction, Nancy is certain that Lucas and all of those struggling do not want to be addicted. Lucas once stated at a NarAnon group he attended with Nancy that “we are not doing this to you.”

After Lucas’ death, she said it was harder to go to family support meetings; listening to the stories of grief became too hard. She said she is still working on dealing with her regret and guilt, and believes “if you don’t speak up and you don’t share the truth, then you can’t work on your own healing.”

A commitment to advocacy

Nancy’s urgent message to families facing similar challenges is one of action and education. “Don’t wait – seek help, get informed, and join support groups” she urged. Amidst the sorrow caused by opioid addiction, she emphasized the importance of finding hope and a sense of community in shared experiences.

Despite her loss, Nancy is committed to advocacy. She speaks at a local treatment facility monthly and at seminars, has participated in state and national conferences, has been interviewed by “Newsweek” and multiple magazines and publications, and addresses audiences at associations of all sizes with one goal in mind – to spread awareness and offer hope amidst the challenges posed by opioid addiction. She has also partnered with the University of Minnesota Center for Neuroscience and Addiction, helping it raise money and spread awareness on the disease of addiction. “Lucas is sitting on my shoulder,” she said.

Her efforts focus on fostering hope, connection, and healing. As part of her own journey, Nancy wrote and published “KardBoard House: My Life Altering Journey Through Lucas’ Addiction,”which is available on Amazon and her website.

Nancy’s story, marked by resilience and commitment to advocacy, echoes the need for support, education, and action in combating the opioid crisis. If you’re interested in reaching out to Nancy or learning more about her story, visit her website:

If you are seeking support or education during a time of need, please don’t hesitate to reach out to JFCS Addiction and Recovery Services at 952-542-4825 or JFCS is a Naloxone Access Point and will supply free overdose prevention kits with drug testing supply and Naloxone, the opioid reversal drug.