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Parks and Rec Producer Harris Wittels’ Mother Issues Plea for Substance Use Awareness

“I am sharing this story because I want other families to hopefully know what we did not know,” wrote comedian and writer Harris Wittels’ mother, Maureen, in her recent piece for the Huffington Post.

The piece, entitled, “The Loss of My Son Harris Wittels to Heroin,” is a heartbreaking tribute to Maureen’s love for her son—and the awareness she hopes to cultivate in the wake of his death.

Harris succumbed to a heroin overdose in February 2015 at 30 years old. According to his mother, he had attended treatment several times, though had checked himself out early during his final stay at a facility. It was in that week that he died.

Harris’ close friend and colleague Aziz Ansari detailed his shock over Harris’ death in a Tumblr post that February. Ansari had spent the entire week prior to Harris’ passing in close contact; he remembered everything from the music that they had played in the car to Harris’ commentary on what they had ordered for lunch at work.

“I’m still waiting for the other phone call to let me know that Harris is okay and this was all a horrible misunderstanding,” Ansari said.

Addiction lurked in the shadows throughout the great success of Harris’ professional life. After being discovered by Sarah Silverman at 22 for his stand-up comedy, he went on to perform with Ansari and Louis C.K., among others. He wrote dozens of scripts, podcasts, and jokes, and even coined a new word, “humblebrag,” which earned a spot in the dictionary.

With Parks and Recreation coming to an end after seven seasons, Harris had made plans to move to New York City to work with Ansari on future projects, including Ansari’s show, Master of None. Harris was to star as Ansari’s best friend.

After learning of Harris’ death, Ansari later wrote that, “I was naïve about addiction and assumed that because he was so good about pursuing treatment, things would be fine.”

Now, over a year and a half has gone by. In the midst of her grief, Harris’ mother founded the Houston-area chapter of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing). It is her hope to educate others about addiction, and to honor her son’s memory through advocacy, stating, “the stigma associated with addiction must be obliterated.”

Through her beautiful homage to her son, Maureen Wittels has added her voice to the ongoing conversation surrounding addiction and addiction treatment. As she remembers her vibrant, kind, and talented child, she aims to help families who may be fighting a similar battle.

Read her piece in its entirety here.


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