Monday, December 14, 2009

Mourning a Poster Child: California Teen Dies of Alcohol Poisoning

Aydin Salek of South Pasadena, California, died just after midnight Sunday morning, apparently from an overdose of alcohol.  He was the student representative to the local school board and a leader and writer on his high school newspaper.  He would have turned 18 today.  He had spent the evening at a party advertised on Facebook at the home of a girl whose parents were away.  The party was broken up by Los Angeles County Sherriff's Deputies.

The accidental death of any person is a tragedy.  Parents in particular read stories like this one and worry, for good reason, about their own children.  There are about 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning in the United States each year.  There are about 50 alcohol poisoning deaths, far fewer than from non-alcohol related car accidents, for example, but this one bothers us.  It sticks with us because it seems like something a parent can prevent.  If only we tell our children enough times, if only we teach them well, they will not make a mistake like this one.

Many parents and teachers around the country will use this story as a springboard to talking to children about alcohol and alcohol poisoning.  It's not uncommon, following a death like this, for the school where the student attended to use the occasion as the backdrop to talk about alcohol use in the community.  Undoubtedly, there are some kids who will be scared enough to listen, and many who won't.

I always worry, though, about the families in these cases.  Their child has just become the poster child for alcohol poisoning.  No matter what they accomplished in life, they will be most remembered for how they died.  People will argue about who's fault it is -- the parents, for giving him too much freedom; the party planners; the friends for not calling 911 fast enough; our culture for promoting alcohol; his for making a bad choice.  Those are public debates, but this is a private loss. 

Aydin Salek was somebody's baby, and the question of how this happened is not an academic one for them.  It is an intensely personal one that they will wrestle with for the rest of their lives.  They may choose to "make something good" of his death by educating others.  We could hardly blame them, though, if they tried to remember him more for how he lived than the senseless way he died.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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