I Will Never Let My Daughter Be Forgotten

Heroin stole my daughter and I will never let my girl be forgotten. Through her story I hope to help others.

When you have children, you never dream that you will outlive them. Addiction stole my daughter and changed my life forever. My first born, my person, my baby girl, is gone forever.

Shalynn Brooke Conner was a beautiful young lady whose smile could light up a room. Growing up, she loved life and couldn’t wait to see what the world had in store for her in the future! Shalynn had a zest for life that showed in everything she did. At a young age she began singing at church, local events and talent shows. Her love for music carried through to school where she sang in concerts and participated in marching band playing the clarinet. Shalynn always loved high school where she participated in many activities such as the school play, cheerleading and Spanish Club. She was even chosen Homecoming Queen which was possibly one of the best days of her short life. She was accepted into her college of choice and was planning to move to school in the fall of 2013.

Shalynn was a daughter that any parent would be proud of! She was a one of a kind, fun-loving kid who loved her family, as she would say… to the moon and back! Although she enjoyed hanging out with her friends, many weekends she could be found staying at her Grandma Long’s house or spending time at home with her mom, step-father and her brother. She was independent, knew what she wanted in life and had dreams of getting married and having a beautiful family.

All of those plans changed when she started hanging out with a different group of people just a few short months before her high school graduation. By the time she graduated in 2013, she was already experimenting with marijuana. Within months her drug use had escalated and she withdrew from college. This was the beginning of a four year addiction that she struggled with every day. There were times during these four years that we didn’t know where she was. I remember driving the streets of neighboring towns looking for her car or just asking people if they had seen her. I would find her and sometimes she would go to treatment, come home, be clean for a few months, but then she would take off again. It just seemed to be a vicious cycle that she couldn’t escape. Finally on Dec. 22, 2016 she called me and asked me to come get her. This was the call I had been praying for! I drove 45 minutes to get her and when she walked out the door, I didn’t even recognize her. She had been abused by her boyfriend and was in withdraws from heroin. She had bruises on her, weighed about 100 pounds and hadn’t eaten in days. But thankfully at that time she was adamant that she wanted to get clean.

Shalynn didn’t want to be an “addict”, she wanted to walk away from her addiction and go back to the life that she loved so much before drugs. She worked hard every day to beat the chains of addiction. Shalynn completed 6 months inpatient treatment and came home to start a new life. She wanted to share her story and hopefully discourage others from trying drugs in the first place. Unfortunately, the grip of addiction wouldn’t let her go and she relapsed.

On the evening of Oct. 13, 2017, Shalynn came home from work like any other evening. We visited, she mentioned she wasn’t feeling good but insisted on going over to a friend’s house. It was harvest season and she had extreme allergies so I believed her when she said it was just her allergies acting up. She hugged me, told me she loved me and was out the door. Less than 2 hours later she woke me up to tell me she was home. She told me again that she didn’t feel well and just wanted to go to bed. She hugged me and said “night Mama, I love you!” Little did I know that it would be the last time I would hear her voice.

I had no idea that she had relapsed until I walked into her room on the morning of Oct. 14, 2017 and found her unresponsive. She had passed away sometime in the middle of the night from an accidental heroin overdose. She was only 22 years old. Just like that my sweet girl was gone.

Today I work to educate others about addiction and overdose through a non-profit started after Shalynn passed. Through Shalynn’s Hope, Inc. it is my hope to reach as many people as I can to help prevent any other families from having to go through the pain of losing someone to addiction. I will never let my Shalynn be forgotten and through sharing her story, I know she is leading me to help others. I love you baby girl, forever and always my angel.

Forever Shalynn’s Mom
Stacy Welch

Our Family Was Rocked By Addiction. But We Are Sticking Together Through It.

I watched as my sister struggled from 2004-2014 with her heroin addiction. She, like so many others at that time especially, started off with Oxycontin and Perc 30’s. It was less than a year on those pills, and out of high school, before she was totally addicted. Her once beautiful face scarred with quarter sized scabs from her trying to scratch away the itch of withdrawal that would haunt her her the rest of her life. Worse than the loss of her beauty, and even perhaps the loss of her dreams, was the loss of her voice. Amanda Beth had the voice of an angel. She sang like a Broadway star every day in her showers and driving in her car. Behind that voice was the wit and personality of our best friend, most trusted confident, most reliable laugh and most of all….our baby sister. Opioid addiction stole that voice from her. She was silenced. She screamed but no one listened. She cried out for help and doors slammed in her face. She begged for understanding and backs turned to her. She pleaded for social awakening….she she was told to be quiet. And so, in silence, and with a smile, no matter how shamed she was, no matter what demons she had to battle or wrong doing out of desperation she had to overcome, she labored in silence for her recovery. When no one listened, she did what she could to try to make us all see the truth…she wrote.

You see my sister didn’t become an addict because she was stupid. Ignorant to the harm and dangerous of the pills? Yes,-weren’t we all? But dumb was not something she could ever be called. She read huge novels on the regular. She could quote poets and recall trivia like no other. Her book smarts were out done only by her street smarts. Her writings, when no one was listening, was perhaps a sign of just how smart she truly was. My sister had poetry as a hobby. Growing up, we would write poetry to each other and take turns writing verses. This habit continued through high school, and then, through her battle. We had saved so many poems she sent us during her struggle. Poems of dreams, poems of regret, poems of love. Poems of intelligence. Poems of a generation.
After my sisters death, I gathered all I had left of this beautiful creature who was gone to soon. How could that bright light she carried be gone so suddenly. I was angry! I was so mad! Why did this have to happen??? Why did no one care? Why did no one have a solution? Then, I felt more than ever that I knew how she felt because now, I was screaming, too, and no one was listening. I decided my sister was smarter than anyone else I had ever known and I made it my mission to make sure her voice would NEVER be silenced again. I had made her a promise ON THE DAY SHE DIED that we would write a book together and I intended to keep that promise and make her voice heard in the way she would’ve wanted it-in her story.

Two years after she passed, the story was published. The Book: The story of Red Tail Hawk, named after one of her poems, has now started to spread across the country. Her voice has been heard in recovery centers, schools, churches, hospitals, jail cells, outreach centers, radio stations and most importantly…homes. You see, we believe this battle is fought in the hearts of every person. Every one of us is at risk and everyone of us can play a part n ending this once and for all. It starts with talking, and being real about what this epidemic is- a killer disguised as a friend. Reader beware, this monster is out there. But, the good news is your story doesn’t have to end the way it did for my sister, or for us. Hope is not wasted. Changes are coming, and there are so many of us THAT WILL NEVER STOP FIGHTING!
Red Tail Hawk
In my dreams I’m a red tail hawk
soaring unreachable heights
No one can touch me
so far above the city lights
I feel so much freedom
I have no worries or pain
nothing can harm me
no snow, sleet, or rain
I see so much beauty,
there’s so much to admire;
if something get’s in my way,
I just float up a little higher.
I am a perfect creature,
feathers cream, mahogany and gold,
not self conscious at all,
I am fearless, proud and bold.
I cruise past the stars and up to Heaven,
stare in amazement at the colors and lights.
I know I’ll see this place again,
when I take my final flight”—A. Beth Randall

Recovery Support Services Gave Me A Path To Long-Term Recovery

When I think back on the year 2010, I think of the nights spent drinking until I blacked out in a dirty house/apartment/trailer or field if need be, and ingesting lines of whatever was offered to me at the time. I rarely think of the fact that I was going into my senior year of high school because a majority of my time was not actually spent in school; it was spent sleeping off a raging hangover until my school counselor would call and implore me to get to class, and then upon arrival attempting to figure out how I was going to get drunk that night.

I had made a new group of friends who would host me and my binge drinking any night of the week. My childhood friends would try partying with my new friends and me only to be horrified at the debauchery taking place by a group of misfits all fiending to get as messed up as possible.

A different life and a different group of friends didn’t seem desirable or attainable at the time, and I would continue drinking for another six years. However, as I was edging closer and closer to my personal bottom, a place called the Bethlehem Recovery Center was being conceived by Mary Carr which would be an answer to the problem that me and many others who decide to get sober ask, which is: “What now?”

For me, putting down the drink and the drug was the first step, but then I had to figure out what to do with a majority of my time that was previously spent either drinking or planning for my next drink. Not to mention my closest friend on any given night was whoever sat down next to me at the bar, so I didn’t have many people calling me with plans.

The Bethlehem Recovery Center started as a dream of Mary Carr’s, then head of Northampton County Drug & Alcohol. Carr knew first-hand the difficulties that arise in early recovery such as finding a safe and sober place to spend time outside of recovery-based meetings, where and how to look for things such as employment and housing, and how to become reintegrated into the community.

The Lehigh Valley Drug & Alcohol Intake Unit and Northampton County collaborated to provide a resource such as this and in 2010 the BRC opened its doors to the recovery community. The drop-in center is run by individuals in recovery from drugs and/or alcohol and supported by volunteers from the community both in and outside of the recovery community.

Carr credits the long-term success of the BRC to the aforementioned recovery community in the surrounding area taking ownership of the space and what it offers. In the beginning, the center hosted one AA meeting, but has now expanded to offer 11 recovery-based meetings, yoga and meditation, crafting and art classes, job and resume workshops, and life-skills classes, all of which are led by volunteers.

Some of those whose beginnings can be traced back to the BRC have gone on to work at inpatient treatment facilities in the area, local nonprofit organizations, or even to work at the BRC like myself. One of the miracles of recovery is that the lives that are saved from drugs and alcohol go on to save others, as shown by one longtime visitor of the BRC Leslie Simmons. Leslie, who continued to volunteer at the center even after it was no longer court-ordered through his probation, went on to help keep the BRC’s Friday night Narcotics Anonymous meeting alive when its founders could no longer run the group.

Tim Munsch, executive director of the Lehigh Valley Drug & Alcohol Intake Unit, expressed the importance of utilizing the strengths of those in recovery and the surrounding community as the BRC  continues to assist those in all stages of recovery, and especially as it begins to extend its services to those on the wide spectrum of mental health issues.

On any given day, since the center is open seven days a week, you can walk into the BRC and see familiar faces from local meetings, new faces waiting to meet with their Certified Recovery Specialist, or someone stopping in to seek assistance with a job application. All of these represent the community-led recovery initiative of the Bethlehem Recovery Center and the wonders of sobriety.

Chris Was My Son, My Baby. He Was So Much More Than His Disease.

We moved to NJ when Chris was in the 5th grade. Prior to this he was diagnosed with ADHD and had started taking Ritalin. In elementary school Chris was in the gifted and talented program and he was so far ahead in math he was kept inside during recess to be taught math lessons one-to-one. Our family are members of the Catholic Church, where I was a youth group leader for 11 years. Chris was involved in multiple youth groups and attended the diocesan “Summer in the City” retreats to do community service. In high school he was inducted into the national honor society, and graduated HS with Honors. He went on to Rutgers University and graduated with his BS degree in Administration of Justice with minors in Sociology and Geography. He was awarded certification in Criminology. While attending Rutgers he worked in the County Prosecutor’s office, which is ironic as he would later serve time in state prison. In college Chris became addicted to caffeine, cigarettes, and then alcohol. He just seemed prewired or genetically predisposed to addiction. Most teens and college kids will try alcohol or drugs and never become addicted but about ‪1/10‬ have that genetic predisposition to a substance use disorder. His biological father’s side, being of Native American (Cherokee) decent, was riddled with people living with substance use disorders and addiction. We have the Nature/Nurture story of addiction. My husband’s family and my family don’t seem to have this genetic make up. My husband adopted Chris at age 6 when we were married. Chris did well in college even though addiction started to rear its ugly head with regard to alcohol. I questioned if his drinking was normal college age shenanigans or something more. After college Chris was employed by the State Government, and as a bachelor bought a single family home. He was extremely smart, and was a successful individual. He had taken the LSAT exam and had aspirations of becoming a lawyer or criminologist.

In 2009 he stepped off of an uneven curb falling and breaking all three bones his left ankle (trimalleolar fracture). The tendon also needed to be reconnected as it had been ripped off of the bone when he fell. He spent a long time in the hospital and the surgeon told us that he had put more hardware in Chris’ ankle than he had ever put into an ankle repair before. Chris had to stay with us in our home while he healed. He was out of work for months on disability. He went from wheelchair, to walker, to cane, to opiate pill dependent, and then to opiate pill addict. He became addicted to his prescribed Percocet almost immediately, although I was unaware of its grip for a long time. He had three surgeries when all was said and done. When the doctors quit prescribing his pain killers without tapering down, he found them on the streets of Trenton where he worked. They cost $1 per milligram and as his tolerance kept increasing, he needed more and more milligrams just to feel well. Feeling well, meaning helping with the continued pain in the ankle as well as feeling well from the pain of opiate wIthdrawal. Withdrawal, if you have ever seen it let alone lived it, is the worst pain imaginable. It’s an indescribable feeling of pain that convinces you that you are dying. Pain like no other. The pills physically changed his brain making it very difficult, if not impossible, to make good decisions regarding using and/or needing these drugs. One of the symptoms of this disorder, is to seek and use the drug no matter how dire or detrimental the consequence of using it might be. The consequence of losing your loved ones, your children, your job, your home, of going to jail, and even of the possibility of losing your own life are not deterrents. This symptom often causes those afflicted to do things that are criminal and out of character to obtain the drug. Many end up with criminal charges for possession, DUI, stealing, robbery, and the like. The individual often ends up in jail or prison.

My son became tolerant to higher and higher milligrams of the pills. He needed 60-80 milligram pills multiple times a day. He would sign his entire paycheck over to the dealer waiting for him outside his office in Trenton on payday. He was later introduced to heroin. It packed a bigger punch for, get this, only $10 in comparison to $80 a pill. He thought, with some convincing by the dealer, that this was his way out of a growing negative financial situation. He was behind on his mortgage and his other bills. In his mind he said, “Yes, sure sell me heroin and teach me how to inject it.” Remember when in full fledged addiction that positive decision making skill is compromised, and to him this less expensive option seemed to make perfect sense. It took some time before I realized that Chris had a problem. It wasn’t until he didn’t show up for my sister’s funeral (they were extremely close) that I knew something was very very wrong. I helped him get into treatment which he reluctantly agreed to. Chris went to an inpatient rehab facility in Florida but relapsed not long after completing the program. He would try to stop using on his own, but the severe withdrawal symptoms made him feel as if he was actually dying and he would relapse. Later he said to me, “mom, if you were dying and you knew the anecdote to cure you was just down the street on the corner for $10 wouldn’t you get it and use it?!” My son ended up receiving a three year sentence to prison due to making a poor decision while under the influence. He spent three years in State prison for being with two other “friends” who went into an abandoned house to steal copper piping to sell to obtain drugs. He was outside being “the lookout”. The house was not abandoned. Before he was even found guilty of his crime he was fired from his State Government job. He was released from prison and he had a criminal record. He was now a felon. No white collar job, in his field of study would ever hire him. After he spent 3-4 months in prison he was released on the NJ ISP program. This is a drug court program that has many rules to follow. Every aspect of his recovery and life was closely monitored. The program has a high success rate and I truly believed this would be how Chris would finally get well. He got a job selling popcorn at the movie theater but was “let go” when they ran his background check. A very discouraging scenario for a successful college graduate, who had worked hard to get well and get back onto the right track. He was trying to do the right things. He finally found a job delivering pizza for 5 dollars an hour. He happily did this job and battled, yes battled, the constant cravings for the drugs. He was in recovery for two and a half years. He did relapse in the beginning of the program when he lost the movie theater job, but did well after the ISP program placed him on medicine assisted treatment. My hopes were high. He was doing all the right things. He was determined and he wanted nothing more than to be well. After 2 1/2 years he accepted a better higher paying job at a warehouse and left the pizzeria. He was very excited until he found out that a third shift highly physical job would be extremely grueling. He could hardly walk due to pain after the long 12 hour shifts of physical work. His body got stronger and he adapted to the hard physical work. He confided in me that he was really starting to enjoy the job. He was feeling more physically fit and more able to do the work. Just a day or so later he was called in to the bosses office and was let go. The boss said that the job was not a good fit. He was still within the first 90 days on the job. He was crushed, he was broken, he was jobless, he was depressed, and yep, he went out to relieve his pain like he so comfortably did years ago. Sadly, he relapsed. It only took one time and he was right back into the grips of the drug. Relapse, I learned is normal when recovering from this disease. Relapses would become further and further apart as his brain would heal and he would learn the coping skills needed for long term recovery. Chris fought so hard, he would always get back up and start again, over, and over, and over again. Rehabs, detox, counseling, acupuncture, 12 step programs, etc., he had been to them all. He was the strongest person I have ever known.

During this period without a job he went to trade school to learn to drive fork lifts. He graduated and was certified to drive 9 different types of fork lift equipment. He was extremely proud. He then found the perfect job doing computer work/logistics at a local cold freezer warehouse. A blue collar job that utilized his white collar skills. He was happy. He loved this job. His knowledge and talents were being utilized. He said “Mom, I finally feel like I have an identity again.” He was a man with purpose. I was so proud. You know, these poor individuals become their disease. They are thought of as nothing more than that stereotypical junkie, an addict, a loser, a person with no willpower, a person that should “just stop”, a person that “chooses” the drug over more important things, and unfortunately, in their own mind someone who is worthless. So worthless, so horrid, and so unworthy of love that even their own families disown them through “tough love” or what they refer to as “detaching with love”. With no one to turn to, and no one who cares, guess what many turn to to escape? Drugs. But my son had an identity again, he was useful, he was needed, he was smart, and he was well liked at his new job.

He was just about at the 3 month anniversary of his hire when he would be eligible for health benefits, life insurance, and 401k. Unfortunately, on payday December 17, 2016 (for reasons unknown) Chris came in from work and relapsed. I heard him collapse upstairs above where I was sitting. I ran upstairs and found him in a ball against the wall in his room. I pulled him onto his back and he was black/blue. I called 911, administered CPR and two doses of injectable Narcan right through his blue jeans and into his thigh. He was non responsive. He was in cardiac arrest with no pulse, and he was not breathing. I was hysterical. Police and EMTs arrived and gave more Narcan. No response. Paramedics arrived and after about 37 minutes from when I made that call they were able to restore his heartbeat. He was in a vegetative state in ICU for 6 days. He tested clean for drugs in the ER and again in the ICU. Unfortunately, he was pronounced brain dead on 12/23/16 two days before Christmas. His liver and two kidneys became a Christmas miracle and they/he saved three people’s lives on Christmas Day. He was only 35.

Neither myself, my family, or my son were bad people. I was a good mom, I did everything I could. I did nothing less than any mom would do if their child had lung cancer, liver disease, or another disease caused by an addiction. He died knowing that I loved him and that I tried to save him to the very end. So often this is a terminal illness, but it shouldn’t be. People with substance use disorder can and do recover, but many things need to change to provide all people with that opportunity. Due to the stigma surrounding this disorder the many people in recovery stay silent. It is sad because those success stories could be encouraging to others. Upon autopsy the medical examiner determined my son’s cause of death to be “adverse reaction to fentanyl”. Fentanyl isn’t tested for in most urine drug screenings. So that is why he tested drug free in the ER and in ICU. According to his girlfriend he had purchased what he thought was heroin.

Chris was so much more than his disease. He was so much more than a number or a statistic. Addiction was just one facet of who he was. One small facet of the jewel we called Chris. He should not be, or have been, defined by his disease. This is an epidemic of unbelievable proportion. This is a public health issue more than it is a public safety issue. Yes, our children commit crimes and need to be held accountable for those actions. They also need to be treated for their substance use disorder, not only to keep the public safe, but more importantly to keep them safe from disease and themselves. They ARE worth saving. They are good people with a horrible debilitating affliction.

My son was strong. He always said, “I can tell you one thing for certain, there isn’t a drug addict out there that wants, or chooses to be an addict.” “If the devil has anything to do with anything, it is this drug”. He helped many others get off drugs and couldn’t understand how he could help everyone else, but couldn’t help himself. He wanted to be well more than anything in this world, and God knows he tried. He worked hard at it. He wrote an email to a local top Dr. and addiction specialist, literally begging him to take his case even if just for an initial consult with diagnosis’s. This doctor, by law, was unable to take on any new patients. His practice was full. That email was dated 5 months prior to Chris’ death. My son would get angry at people that would say, “yes it becomes a non choice overtime, but you had a choice that first time you used”. He said, “I never made that first choice. I just came home from the hospital and followed the discharge instructions”. Addiction and the dangerous outcomes of using the Percocet were never discussed with him. He was never asked if he or anyone in his family had a predisposition to becoming addicted to substances. There was no medical help from the prescribing doctors to teach/help him wean off the drugs as his leg healed. There was no place to turn for help when the drugs were no longer needed for the injury and your body had become dependent and/or addicted. When the pills were no longer prescribed, he became extremely sick, so he turned to the streets to self medicate.

I wish there were a special place for those who break the law due to the symptoms of addiction. Places that are secure (for public safety) but with all the amenities of home, of community, with education, expert treatment, with help in job placement, with tons of love, respect, and medicine assisted treatment. Jail and punishment does not cure addiction, and treatment for addiction needs to be advocated. Abstinence based 12 step programs should not be the only answer. People with substance use disorders need to be treated individually. What works for one may not necessarily work for another. We need person centered care to treat addiction. Access to that care should be available to all when it is needed. Too many die, too many people don’t “get it”, they just don’t understand addiction. The stigma has to go. We need to speak out and educate others. My son was 1 of approximately 65,000 who lost their life to an accidental overdose in 2016. I have cried every day for the past 2 years. I think of my grief, the grief of my family, my extended family, my son’s friends and the people who knew and loved him… and I multiply that times 65,000. Then add another 150,000 or so since his death. That is a lot of hurt in this world. If just choosing to stop was all it took to be well the world would not be in the midst of this epidemic.

Chris was my baby, he was my son. I remember when he was in the 5th grade. We were all watching the news coverage on CNN. We saw that about 15,000 Iraqi’s and “only” about 300 Americans had been killed in Operation Dessert Storm. As the 300 names of the deceased scrolled across the screen, Chris cocked his head and looked at me. He said, “They act like it’s nothin’ but a thing, but everybody is somebody to somebody else.” No one should lose their identity to one facet of who they are. No one should be defined by their disease, disorder, disability, ethnicity, skin color, age, by who they love, or by any one facet that makes them the beautiful person God created. Every life matters. “Everybody is somebody to somebody else”. Chris was SOMEBODY. He was a big guy with a big personality. He was successful, a great friend, someone who was excellent with children, and someone who would come to your rescue at the drop of a dime. There are many sides and facets to each of us, that when put together, make us beautiful and brilliant. Chris did the best he could to beat his disease. He was one of the strongest people I have ever known. If “love and try” could have saved him he’d be here today. He said, “No one in their “right mind” would “choose” this life. No one. No one wanted to become addicted, and those that are, are fighting a constant battle”. Please join me in continuing to fight in memory of those that have lost the battle, and for those still waging the war. Together we can help those suffering, and we can “Stop the Stigma” by starting the conversation and by listening to the stories. “Everybody is somebody” and everyone has a story. How each person developed their substance use doesn’t matter. Everyone is somebody and everyone deserves access to medical treatment for whatever ails them.

Chris died on 12/23/16. He saved lives with his organs on Christmas Day. Since Christmas will forever be “Chris” “Miss” for me; I will conclude by saying. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with each of us.”

With much love and empathy,
Chris’ Ma

Brenda Stephens Deckman

My Son Got Stuck In The ‘Florida Shuffle’ And Lost His Battle To Addiction

December 7, 2016 will forever be the most difficult day for all of us.

That is the day we found out our beautiful son Jamie had died. Rumors surrounding his death circulated throughout our community, but Jamie’s story is not what anyone expected.

There was no predisposition to addiction in our family. And honestly, I didn’t know how to recognize the signs. I do know that at times throughout Jamie’s life, he’d feel like he didn’t fit in, or would go to the extreme to fit in, as was the case while he was in university.

When Jamie was about 16, he gave a self-diagnosis to a therapist as having ADD and asked for Adderall. After seeing the therapist for several weeks, the therapist agreed with Jamie and told me I had set him up to fail. That he wasn’t smart enough to get through high school, let alone get into university. I was dumbfounded, almost speechless. Maybe it was adolescent behavior, stress or anxiety, but it absolutely was not ADD. Years after his diagnosis, and after graduating university, Jamie admitted to me he had intentionally answered the questions wrong on the ADD test. It was that easy.

After that, Jamie gave us no reason to suspect he was using or abusing drugs. He graduated high school without issue, and went on to university. He was still taking Adderall.

In January 2015, just 4 months prior to Jamie’s graduation from Michigan State University, we found out he had been abusing prescription medication. We don’t know exactly when he turned to opioids, but we do know they were easily obtainable on campus and by the time he graduated, he couldn’t stop.

I got a referral to yet another therapist near Jamie’s school who told me not to worry, he’d be fine. He passed Jamie off to another therapist, who continued to get Jamie his Adderall pills.

With Jamie being over 18, he was now able to find his own therapists. He found a psychiatrist that several of his friends went to, who’s office was about an hour away from school, and who only saw Jamie a minimal amount of time , and continued to prescribe Jamie Adderall.

Jamie graduated Michigan State University with a 3.5 GPA in May 2015. He had arranged a summer job that he started in June. By early July he was in serious trouble. In an attempt to detox himself, Jamie called and begged for help.

We found him a rehab facility in Michigan and he signed himself in. Since they felt he had already detoxed himself, he was admitted for 2 weeks for therapy. He seemed to do okay. When I went to pick him up, I had asked his therapist at this facility for recommendations for therapist to continue treatment. The answer … the person who has that information was off, but call her tomorrow. When I called to speak to the woman the next day, she told me to Google therapists. At the same time, we had Jamie call the psychiatrist he had seen before going to rehab and tell him he was an addict. I had a difficult time finding a therapist. Jamie told us he felt most comfortable with the psychiatrist he had been seeing, so we agreed to let him go back knowing that Jamie had admitted to him he was addicted to pills. We came to find out that the Adderall continued to be prescribed, along with sleeping pills. Jamie relapsed 2 weeks later.

I watched him try to detox himself several times. On three occasions I took him to the emergency room during an acute crisis, only to be discharged hours later with no long-term plan.

We finally found help from a psychologist in Michigan, who at Jamie’s lowest point recommended he move to an inpatient treatment center in Florida. After spending 10 days in the hospital in Michigan going through detox, where they weaned him off all the medication he was taking, less than 24 hours later he was on a plane to Florida.

The plan that was arranged for Jamie by the psychologist, the admissions advisor at the treatment center, Jamie, and me, was to spend a few weeks at the inpatient treatment center, then move to a sober living home.

With guidance, he’d attend outpatient treatment meetings, be routinely drug tested, be expected to find a job and acclimate himself back into society, clean and sober.

Jamie was in Florida for 7 months. We had high hopes of his being a success story of sobriety, but it wasn’t to be.

We had no clue about the corruption in Florida. No one said anything to us. When I was on the phone with Jamie and his therapist in Florida, and we spoke about him moving into a sober home, not once did the therapist mention anything about what had been going on in Florida.

It took almost 8 months after Jamie died to put the pieces together.

With the help of the State Attorney for Palm Beach County and his special Drug Task Force detectives, we have now learned that what has become a billion dollar, broken recovery industry, often involves corruption and criminal activity, and took Jamie’s life.

Florida has become the recovery capital with over 400 sober living homes in Palm Beach County alone. These homes are linked with outpatient treatment programs, doctors and labs. However, many sober homeowners realized there was more money to be made by preying on individuals, with insurance. They pay anywhere from $500 – $1000, to what have been termed ‘body brokers’. These people befriend and lure individuals into specific sober homes with offers of gifts, or as in Jamie’s case, a promise of rent completely covered by insurance. In many cases drugs are easily accessible to those in recovery, so the relapsed client has to enter detox again and the cycle starts all over. All the while, the owners are charging the insurance. In a nutshell, it is ‘patient brokering’. They receive kickbacks for each patient they refer, and they can keep billing the insurance. With Jamie, the doctor they sent him to, a self described addiction specialist, put Jamie on new medication for his anxiety. Jamie had already been on an anti-anxiety medication for a month. This new doctor prescribed Alprazolam, commonly known as Xanax. A highly addictive drug and not one that would commonly be prescribed to someone addicted to prescription medication. In other words, Jamie was set up to fail.

On December 7, just 4 days after being prescribed these medications, Jamie ingested heroine laced with fentanyl. Since Jamie had been clean for seven months, that pill shocked his heart and eventually killed him. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear to police at the time, nor to us now, how or where Jamie got the drugs, as no drugs nor any of Jamie’s medications, were found at the scene. What we do know is that the house manager never gave Jamie Narcan , that could have potentially saved his life. There has also been question as to how long Jamie’s roommate and the house manager waited before calling 911.

Shortly after returning from the cemetery after Jamie’s funeral, we started receiving a series of text messages from Jamie’s roommate from the last house he lived in. In addition to telling us he had some of Jamie’s possessions that he’d return to us if we sent him money, he told us that he had enough information on the house they were living in to bury the owners under the house.

The intent of course, was not to kill Jamie, but keep him in the system, and continue to abuse his insurance.

After speaking with Blue Cross Fraud Department, and the Drug Task Force detectives, it was determined that charges from 2 of the 3 sober homes Jamie had lived in, were fraudulent. In less than 7 months there was upwards of $60,000 in insurance charges for urine and blood tests.

Recently a report was made of drug screens being sent to rural hospitals rather than city labs, as insurance companies pay out more to keep money in the rural areas. Specifically, a hospital in rural Georgia is under investigation for fraud after being recently purchased by someone in Florida. After looking at Jamie’s EOB’s again, we found lab screens that were sent from Florida to this hospital and paid out by Blue Cross Blue Shield.

It turns out that the doctor he was sent to after moving into his second sober house has been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013. Working with Blue Cross fraud, we found that 3 requisitions signed by the doctor were done during the week of Thanksgiving and we were able to show proof that Jamie was home with us in Michigan and not in the state of Florida.

We were told that we had no recourse with either doctor. Because there is no standard of care, I was told that, if we went to court, it would be my expert witnesses against the doctors’. So, Jamie’s cause of death remains accidental death by overdose.

Jamie seemed to embrace his sobriety. He had just started studying again to take his LSAT and he was working as a law clerk in a large firm in Boca Raton.

While back home in Michigan for Thanksgiving, Jamie told his friend’s mom that he had ‘taken the wrong path, but was on the right road now’. That was 13 days before he died.

Jamie is one story of many, but one that has to be told to help make a change.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share Jamie’s story with you.

Recovery, Remission, and Reality – A Mother’s Perspective

I still worry. Just not as much. I have thoughts but let them fly. If the thought gets too rat-wheel, like it might spin all day and night, and all I want is to connect, then I do. I text or call. I leave a message, “I love you.” I forget how lucky I am, if I’m busy worrying. But I am, after all, and forever, a mother.

It was a relief to find out that a speck of their children’s DNA is wedged into a mother’s body, somewhere; our suspicions corroborated. I want to see where he is, and right now it’s a tiny efficiency apartment attached to his girlfriend’s dad’s house. It’s in a nice neighborhood. It used to be a one-man beauty salon long ago. It’s got good driveway space for his vehicles as he always has extras he works on. He has a 40-hour-a-week job, and the job is good. His boss appreciates him.

His teenage son and almost-graduated college-age daughter are slowly letting themselves believe he’s back, that it really is an illness, this substance use disorder. They can love him in three-D again. They can see his burly, tattooed arms, his twinkling eye and happy smile. Oh it’s been what must seem like a life-time to them, missing him. They know he goes to counseling once a week, and that he really likes his therapist. They know he can’t be around booze or, of course, any drugs. That he’s on probation. But they also know, now, that they can find him home; that he’ll answer their calls most of the time, or get back to them. That he talks like he used to. His kids say they want a normal divorced family.

They know the marriage had to end. That this part of life is defined more sharply into an after he got sober and is getting well. Before that the air seemed to be missing vital elements. Their dad was missing. He stopped by getting arrested. A miracle brought about by jail time, rehab, half-way to hell house, a little freedom and now successes.

They can tell him their stories, about the four years he didn’t find them to see them. How Grandma told them he was too sick. Too taken. Too gone, but now he’s back. After more than a year now of his sobriety, they are willing to risk a little time with him, letting him really see them. Who they are. Where they’ve been. What they’ve been doing. And how much they couldn’t do without him.

They know that Grandma is a poet, and she put her grief and fear, anger and tenderness and love and hope into words in poems for the years he was trying to change or something they didn’t understand. They like some of grandma’s poems because she lets everyone know how it feels to have a man-child slipping like water in a desert, through her fingers. They see some of their feelings in her poems. They can’t read the whole book. It’s too hard. It was their pain too, and their stories. But they learn about stuff from Grandma; they trust her not to lie and so someday, they will read more of it. It made Grandma very happy that their dad went into recovery at the same time the book was about to be printed in huge machines, then spit out for the world to look at. Their dad too came into the world again, and he too was being looked at. He approved of her book, said he was proud and glad that his mom stuck with him, cared enough to write their story.

I started Notes on Serenity: An ABC of Addiction when my son came to me homeless, hungry, and admitted to substance use disorder; again (I’d heard about other times from his now ex-wife). I gave him shelter and all I could give. But, of course, I couldn’t give him a way out. It was so painful to not be able to fix things for him, so hard to see him suffer; I was overwhelmed. I diligently and gratefully attended Naranon (after ten years of Alanon and three of Adult Children of Alcoholics), then decided to focus my time on poems and stories regarding my experience. (I’m a poet and writing teacher by trade.) I thought about titles like “Addiction for Dummies,” “Having an Addict Son Made Easy,” but there was no humor to work with in spite of living in Albuquerque, the home of Breaking Bad. I was at stage 4 GRIEF in spite of all the 12-steps. The Abcedarien is a poetic form I’d learned, used, and taught to writing students. I pitched a course on the form at an online writing school where I was on the faculty and told my students I’d be writing with them, a poem a day for three weeks, each consecutive poem starting with a consecutive letter of the alphabet. It was circa 2010, and I told them I’d be focusing on addiction as my theme if they didn’t mind. They didn’t mind. Eight years later I published the book. The alphabet was a tangible tool, both guideline and a tow rope, something to hold onto and see in the dark. Though the theme gets a little obscured in places, and the forward motion is a child-like tool for literacy, my book links each story the same way addiction links everything when one is in the middle of it.

Poets must write the truth in a unique way—that’s the challenge of the art. There is healing power in sculpting with words, moments and events of the journey. At 70, I gave myself permission to write my journey and my son’s journey, one day at a time.

Opiates Almost Killed Me. But I Got A Second Chance At Life.

My name is Heather and I’m in long term recovery from major depressive disorder and substance use. I have been in recovery going on 5 years. I need to express how grateful I am for being given another chance at life.

Opiates were my choice and it almost killed me. My use of opiates started out innocently. I had several knee surgeries and other ortho type ailments. I was given opiates. I’m not going to place blame on my physicians. Honestly, my brain liked the flood of dopamine opiates provided. I became addicted to the energy and euphoria it gave me. I became super mom, super nurse, super wife. The euphoria helped me become sociable. I have always struggled with low self esteem. I think I can trace all my troubles back to my childhood. Absent father and emotionally neglected mother is my beginning. My parents didn’t know how to cope with stress. They both suffered from depression. My father was neglectful of his responsibilities and my mom was left to carry the weight. My parents divorced when I was 10. It was devastating. My father left a trail of broken promises. I waited for him many weekends only for him to not show up. I resented him for many years. I was always searching for him in other relationships. His absence left a void. It turned me into a clingy people pleasing person. I didn’t know how to have a relationship. I was searching in all the wrong places. I was neglectful of my needs. I desperately wanted to be and feel loved.

I met my husband in 1994. We have been together almost 24 years. We have 2 beautiful children, Cameron and Deanna. I almost lost all of it in 2013. My addiction was raging like a wildfire. I had lost my job. My depression started taking me to a really dark place. I literally spent the summer of 2013 in bed. That’s where I felt the safest. I closed off from all family and friends. No one really knew what was going on in our home. I started using alcohol to help me cope with withdrawal from narcotics. That’s when my husband put the brakes on my self destruction. I was admitted to a detox facility and then on to a 30 day program. That was the beginning of my recovery journey. During this time I cut off contact with my father. I learned he was a big trigger for me. I stopped communicating with him for almost 3 years. I had to take care of me.

Unfortunately, I was never going to get the chance to speak to him again. I was awakened in the early morning hours of April 18, 2016 to a Wildlife officer standing at my front door to inform me my father was missing in Falls Lake. He had been fishing that day. My dad was going to another cove. He was traveling at a high rate of speed. The boat flipped in the air hitting my dad. He was missing for 5 days before his body was recovered. I was numb for that whole week. I immediately made an appointment to see my therapist. My recovery had to be protected. In the past I would’ve used this excuse to numb the pain. I spent 8 weeks attending grief counseling. Smartest decision I ever made. My recovery really began to take off. I made peace with my father. I have to wonder at times if his death was a gift to me. I was no longer stuck at being 10 years old.

Today I am a certified recovery coach and peer support specialist. I am in the process of starting CSAC training. I also started a peer support group called Still Standing. My life is beautiful today and I couldn’t be more happier. I am person thriving in recovery and loving it.

A Heroin Overdose Took Our Beautiful Boy And Our Family Is Forever Changed

Putting your grief into words is indescribable. Our family’s life was forever changed by an unspeakable tragedy when we lost our beautiful boy, our 21 year old son Cody, to a heroin overdose. This monster stole his dreams, our dreams, and the wreckage left behind is un-navigable. There is no healing, no moving on, your life is now work that you must think about attending each and every day.

What does addiction look like? Surely not my gifted, gregarious, smart, compassionate son? Cody was the athlete that everyone wanted to be. Cody was talented, and smart. He had a beautiful girlfriend a family and friends that loved him beyond words. He loved his little brother, his dog, and He was one of the most caring, compassionate people on this planet. I truly believe that his caring, loving soul was too good for this world. He died in our home, in his bedroom.

What most people did not know about Cody is that he suffered from severe anxiety and depression. Like so many, his decent into addiction began with prescription drugs resulting from several sports injuries. After his one and only stint in treatment, he was clean and we had our boy back. Then, at a job he loved…..the worst scenario for someone in recovery, a horrible near death accident. Seven surgeries and daily doses of the strongest opioids available, for nearly 12 months. He struggled with the pain and tried to manage the medication. He knew he was in trouble, I knew he was in trouble.

The day my boy left us, I walked out of my body and never went back. I remember hovering over my body, seeing myself sitting on the floor, seeing those around me talking-but not hearing a word. I thought to myself, “thank god, I’ve died too.” Then, I remembered my other son, my only other child, he would be getting out of school, I had to get to him before he saw all the commotion at our home. Just then, as if he knew, he called. “Mom, I’m done with practice, can you bring me a sub.” I told him he needed to come home. He said “why, is it my brother?” Before I could get a word out, the phone went dead. I will never forget the look on his face as he ran from his car to sit beside me, he took my hand, cried, and I knew at that moment, he was no longer 16, he was thrown into a nightmare that will haunt him forever.

I am now unrecognizable to myself and those who knew the ‘old me’. My soul is so intertwined with my sweet boy’s soul, I can’t get my feet on the ground. I still can’t imagine my life without him.

After 3 months in bed and a family intervention, I knew I had to be Cody’s voice. I refuse to let my beautiful boy become just a statistic. I became an advocate in our state. Meeting with our lawmakers, creating a foundation in his name to help those who cannot afford the gift of recovery. And most importantly, educate anyone and everyone who is convinced this could never happen to them.

I am a bereaved mother, forever broken, struggling to find meaning in all this pain. I’m angry, frustrated, and most days, hopeless. Addiction is so cruel. The guilt consumes me. I want to tell him “I’m sorry I couldn’t get to you.” Until I see my Cody again, I will continue to live between life and death.

The Opioids Lost, And Recovery Won!

My story…. I’ve had a few spinal surgeries and when the pills ended is where my story really starts. I went through the nasty withdrawals and found myself on the other side. Until I started smoking pot to help my pain (physically and emotionally) You see I’ve been through a pretty crappy life… my father was/is an alcoholic. My mother battles with severe depression and anxiety, more so now as my childhood home burned to the ground last year. It was tough… they lost everything… so naturally they changed. I don’t speak to or see my mother really ever. That’s do to my 44 year old addict sister living there. I’ve been raped twice, one of those times I was beaten and stabbed. That really messed me up,I went to go to treatment but it was pointless. So, I did the ONE thing I said I would NEVER do… I picked up a needle( with who I thought was my friend) Since that day I couldn’t Stop. I lied to my friends and family, I stole money from people ,I pawned my grandmother’s wedding ring that she left me when she died(29 years ago)and did anything else I can do just to get money for heroin…I just ran with it I guess…. I told myself ONE time and that “first” one time I was gone for days… up for days just trying to find money to get more. Heroin grabbed my soul and had no intention of letting me go until I was in a body bag. I’ve OD once..and that still wasn’t a wake up call! A few weeks after I overdosed… Make daughter told me she was pregnant, I was so excited to be a grandma but I was so messed up I couldn’t be a grandma. Then she found out at her 12 week visit that my grandson was going to have down syndrome and a major heart defect, that’s when I said to myself I have to be here for my daughter and for my grandson and I went that night to treatment. It was one of the hardest things I had to do in my life. But I knew that I had to do it for my daughter and my grandson that they needed me more than heroin needed me. Fast forward to May 15, 2018, I have been clean from every evil drug especially heroin for one year!!! I am so incredibly proud of myself, I’m not gonna say there are days I don’t think about it are there are days I don’t want to do it because there are. I just work through it and the night go to bed and wake up and it’s one more day sober. I’m connected to many groups that help support me positively, and of course my grandson who is now nine months old who is my heart. I’ve been connected to many groups that help support me positively, and my precious family who has forgiven me. So heroin YOU LOST, I WON!

I Will No Longer Be Silent. It’s Now My Mission To Share My Story To Save Lives.

I want to share a story here, not to bring light upon myself, but to something that I have struggled with for many years. These are my words, not something that I copied and pasted. I hope that this will bring awareness and hope for who ever reads this:

I joined a group on Facebook today that consists of people that have some sort of addiction. I am an alcoholic and began my second journey of battling this disease 34 days ago. My first journey began about the same time last year. I had become a high functioning alcoholic and I knew that I needed to get this under control and eliminated from my life. I started attending AA and thought I had “it” under control and even made a statement once saying, “I got this”. I did not understand the meaning nor the concept of what Alcoholism is or consisted of, I just thought I was a guy with a high tolerance and needed help to control and stop drinking all together.

Well, little did I know that I suffer from the disease of Alcoholism. A very Powerful, Baffling and Cunning Disease. I have spent the last 30 days in Out Patient Rehab and now have the knowledge and education of what Alcoholism is, and the effects and control it can have on me if I continue to use alcohol. I am thankful and Blessed beyond means that I have figured this out, I can now have order restored back in my life.

I used to think my story was not so tragic, but I now realize, that all of our stories, who suffer from some sort of addiction, has left a tragic trail behind us, hurting not only ourself but those close to us and especially those that we love.

I hope that in the days, months and years to come, I can share my story with others and raise awareness to addiction and Alcoholism to others, so that they can seek help before they too, will have to look back and see the tragic story/path that they may leave behind before seeking help.

Knowledge, Information and Education is only as powerful as you use and apply it to your daily life. My Platform is small now, but I hope that it grows each day, as I grow and improve each day.

If you have read this, thank you for taking the time. I hope that those of you who think you may have an addiction that you will reach out and seek help. And for those of you who may know someone that may suffer, be a friend, and let them see what others are seeing. One who has an addiction does not see what others see, and sometimes sees their addiction when it has become to late

I wish and hope for all to have a Happy and Blessed Day….