Stephanie Marquesano is one of the most remarkable individuals I have encountered in a 40-year Journalism career.

Mrs. Marquesano is proof of my point that one determined person CAN change the world. This is a story about a mother’s pain of losing her son, but never giving up….A Mother that fights back. Nothing will save her son, but she’s assisting young people from around the country in trying to make sure they don’t go down the same heartbreaking path.

Stephanie Marquesano is also making sure the Mental Health Community and other experts are better tailored…. and prepared to handle co-occurring disorders.

Her son, Harris Marquesano should be alive with us today, but he was a victim. A victim of an accidental fatal overdose, and a victim of Co-Occurring Disorders.

Dominic Carter’s profile on the life of 19-year-old Harris Marquesano who died of an accidental overdose

I strongly suggest finding out what Co-Occurring Disorders are. Your life or the life of someone you love could depend on it.

Harris Marquesano was a high school soccer star. And like so many others throughout the country, by 19, his life was over. A fatal accidental overdose.

Harris dealt with an anxiety disorder as a child. He turned to marijuana, and later to prescription medications. Co-occurring disorders. The dangers and threats of self-medicating with drugs and alcohol for those with underlying mental health conditions. This is what his very courageous mother, Stephanie Marquesano told me.

Harris Marquesano

“Not one professional that we saw…. when Harris was young, ever said, Good-looking, popular, social, athletic kid like you, but so much anxiety, you better be really careful around substances that can be a spiral you go down really quickly. He later picked up the ADHD diagnosis, went on medication for the first time, and went back to playing sports in high school. Really, you know, his life had begun to get back on a really great traditional track. And then 11th grade came…… stress and pressure. Am I playing soccer in college? — Stephanie Marquesano

Stephanie Marquesano

Her son’s troubles rapidly escalated in the 11th grade. Harris went to a party and was exposed to pills.

“When that 11th-grade bump in the road came…. ACTs, SATs, and all of that pressure, he went to a party in my town, and prescription pills were available. And that’s when I could say for our family the game was over. “ — Stephanie Marquesano

“Within a year and a half before he died. He was in four substance use inpatient programs to substance use outpatient programs. Each program saying Harris has this thing called co-occurring disorders. — Stephanie Marquesano

“Mental health challenges, and substance abuse and addiction and we treat it….. but not one of those programs ever got to the mental health piece. And that’s what drove each recurrence in use.” — Stephanie Marquesano

Stephanie Marquesano & her son Harris in better times

“His anxiety overwhelms the medication that he is on, he then goes to a party in my town, where prescription pills are available, and he takes those pills again, thinking that he will feel better. And in fact, it led to, you know, addiction. he would take whatever medications he could get his hands on. And nowadays, the kinds of medications that are out there, the adulterants in the supply, the counterfeit pill supply make it even more dangerous. It was bad for him and for us in 2013. It is more frightening now than ever before. The fentanyl Yes, fentanyl xylazine. You know, test strips,” — Stephanie Marquesano

Harris Marquesano

“He was in four different rehabilitation programs, many of them rooted in kind of shame and blame and abstinence-based and you know, you know, look how much money you’re costing your family, can’t you just say no, and always promising that they were going to address the anxiety disorder, the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but they never would get to it like he would get in trouble for not being able to sit still, during a 45-minute yoga meditation.” — Stephanie Marquesano

Public Service Announcement from the Harris Project Organization on Co-occurring Disorders.

“But when you think about people who struggle with their mental health and struggle with substance misuse and addiction, most people blame the individual, it’s their fault. They should have tried harder, they should have just said no. Why….. why is this so problematic for them? Instead of looking at how we deliver care.” — Stephanie Marquesano

The Marquesano Family

This is what raced through my mind…so I asked the question.

“What I’m thinking about Harris….from an affluent family and a fluent community…. he starts using drugs, but there’s a separate mental health component going on. And by 19 You’ve got to bury your son?” — Journalist Dominic Carter

and her response almost made me lose my breath.

That’s it! and so If I knew then what I know now, I believe that my son would be here today — — Stephanie Marquesano

But Stephanie Marquesano decided to fight back. She founded the Harris Project, an organization to help people with Co-occurring disorders. The website for Stephanie Marquesano and her organization is: The Marquesano family lives in Westchester County New York.

 I am so profoundly sorry that you lost your 19-year-old son.