Ethan Monson-Dupuis grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee with his parents, Robin and Jeff, and older sister, Deva. His mother was a psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor; his father was a detective with a local police department.
“Ethan was very intelligent,” said Jeff. “Sometimes to his own detriment – he was too smart for his own good.” Ethan said that himself at times during his numerous recovery attempts. He struggled with feeling like he should be smart enough to recover on his own, without outside help.
Ethan was on the gifted and talented track at school. He loved music and could play piano, drums, guitar and marimba. He played basketball in middle school and ran varsity track in high school. But, he also struggled with anxiety.
“We were never sure he’d make it through an entire sleepover,” said Jeff. “He liked familiar surroundings. Transitions were tough for him.”
Ethan’s parents believe medication was the trigger that led to his struggle with addiction. Just before his senior year of high school, Ethan was prescribed medication for acne. The rare side effects of that particular drug included mental health problems like depression, psychosis, and suicidal ideation. “The depression just slammed into him,” said Robin.
“That senior year was horrible,” said Jeff. “He had always been an honor student, and then we were afraid he wouldn’t graduate. His self-esteem really dropped that year.”
Ethan was prescribed medications for depression and anxiety – including one that was addictive, which he started abusing. He experimented with Oxycodone and OxyContin to treat physical pain due to athletic injuries; he drank Robitussin cough syrup to get high.
Ethan went through numerous treatment programs and saw several therapists over the years. He relapsed multiple times, a common part of recovery from addiction. He also tried to take his own life three times.
In November 2016, on the heels of another relapse, Robin and Jeff told Ethan he couldn’t come home for Thanksgiving. Setting limits had a positive impact on Ethan in the past, and he appeared to be drug-free when he came home for Christmas that year. He had a new job, was meeting with a therapist again, and talked positively about his future. “The four days he was home were some of the best days we’d had with him in years,” said Robin. Ethan planned to go back to La Crosse two days after Christmas. But the night before he planned to leave, he asked his parents if he could move back home.
“We were caught off guard,” said Robin. “He had a new job in La Crosse – why would he want to move back home? He wouldn’t give us more information, and we told him no – that he needed to continue taking responsibility for his recovery and was doing a good job. It was best if we supported him in being an adult without enabling and taking care of him at home.”
Robin and Jeff later discovered that Ethan had only gone to his new job for one day, then quit. He had stopped seeing his therapist, was about to be evicted and hadn’t made his car payments. They had no idea.
Ethan never made it back to La Crosse. On December 27, he stole $20 from Jeff’s wallet, bought heroin in Milwaukee, used in a McDonald’s parking lot, and died.
The Monson-Dupuis’ grief weighs heavily on them. You can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices as they talk about their son. But instead of letting the despair overwhelm them, they are committed to pursuing Ethan’s desire to help others fight addiction, as a way to honor the best of who Ethan was.
“We miss him so much. We know he did the best he could. Just because Ethan died doesn’t mean he didn’t live a valiant life. His was a life worth living,” said Robin. “It ended too soon, but we will make sure that good comes out of his story. Ethan would have wanted that.”