Gage Bellitto died alone three days before Christmas. This wasn’t another overdose death that occurred on the streets of a big city, or in the back room of some dirty drug den. Bellitto died in his Ivy League dorm room in the affluent halls of Columbia University–after an overdose of what were thought to be illegally purchased opioids.
Kyle Bellitto, Gage’s mother, and Glenn Bellitto, his father, are both Harvard graduates and work in the areas of law and finance. They live in a well-respected community with an average income exceeding $200,000 annually. This is a tiny window into the way that the opioid epidemic has transcended stereotypical demographics.
Addiction isn’t a problem reserved for those who live in poverty and grow up on city streets. It can impact anyone, anywhere, and at any time. The abuse of prescription drugs combined with the widespread availability of heroin and fentanyl have created an ever-growing rise in overdose deaths that span respected college campuses throughout the U.S.
According to interviews with the New York Post, Bellitto had shown symptoms of an ongoing problem with substance abuse all through his high school years, and his friends reported that he regularly manipulated doctors in order to gain prescriptions to scheduled medications that he didn’t necessarily need. This included everything from stimulant medications used for attention deficit disorder and anti-anxiety medications used to treat severe symptoms of anxiety and insomnia.
According to Bellitto’s childhood friend, Will Rabsey, Gage was regularly using cocaine and marijuana by his junior year. Rabsey said, “Cocaine was really big for him. I remember a few times he’d put a line out, and I’d say, ‘D— Gage, that’s a lot.’ He’d say, ‘No, no I’ve done this before. I can handle it.’ “
His parents admitted knowledge of his smoking and drinking, and they both worried over his impulsive behavior. When Bellitto didn’t reach out to them over Christmas break, they thought that they had upset him in some way.
“He was always doing this, ignoring us, so we thought he was making a point,” said his mother. “We figured he was angry at us.”
When his parents arrived to check on their son on Dec. 27, they didn’t expect to be met by grim-faced police officers warning them against entering his dorm room. Glenn and Kyle Bellitto were heartbroken when they learned that Gage had been dead for an estimated five days prior to the discovery of his body.
Bellitto began his college career at Bates College in Maine prior to transferring over to Columbia University in a bid to live up to his family’s Ivy League legacy. After his first year at Bates, his parents reported an increase in his drug use–indicated by a plastic wrapped smoke detector in his freshman dorm room.
They reported that Bellitto began to openly smoke marijuana in their home and regularly brushed off their concerns. As his problem became more apparent, his mother and father found themselves fighting an uphill battle.
After being accepted at Columbia, Bellitto’s parents reported that things had only continued to get worse. On Oct. 12, Bellitto collapsed while at school and was rushed to Saint Luke’s Hospital. Doctors reported that he had taken a “dangerous mixture of drugs.” He refused to sign release forms that would have allowed doctors to analyze the drugs in his system, allowing him to begin treatment for addiction and potentially saving his life.
Bellitto continued to refuse inpatient treatment and his slipping grades heralded an increase in his drug use. Kyle and Glenn Bellitto claimed that they were unaware of the opioid abuse–believing their son’s problem to center primarily around prescription stimulants, marijuana, and drinking.
The death of Gage Bellitto has drawn attention to a nationwide trend of collegiate drug abuse that’s claiming the lives of thousands of promising students each year. The number has grown exponentially since the introduction of prescription opioids.
Glenn Bellitto summed up their tragedy, saying, “It was way worse than we had ever imagined. It often isn’t what you see that’s deadly. It’s what you don’t see.”