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‘My daughter’s urn is here on the table’

One victim of the opioid epidemic saw all of it and hated drugs, her mother said — and then she ended up using them anyway

When we started reporting about the opioid epidemic in Brattleboro and the rest of Windham County, we put out an open request on a couple of Facebook groups for people to tell their own stories and received a lot of responses. These are the words of one person who privately shared her family’s story with us early in our reporting. We have edited lightly for punctuation and clarity and, in the interest in preserving the author’s voice, have preserved language that some people in the eye of this hurricane believe is stigmatizing.

My daughter turned 23 on March 12, 2021. On March 14, 2021, we found her in her bed, in my home, dead from an overdose.

I had no idea she did anything other than occasional pot. She had a good job — everyone there liked her, supervisors went to her for problem solving, new jobs, training folks, etc.

We worked for the same company. She was very smart, funny, loved by everyone who met her, and would give the shirt off her back to help anyone in need. She especially helped out the underdog.

She had several friends who used, and she always tried to get them to rehab. We talked often about drugs and addicts — I thought we were on the same page. I thought wrong.

She died from acute intoxication of fentanyl and xylazine, an animal tranquilizer. It was two days after her birthday, the day before my birthday.

I have five children. She was the second oldest, my youngest being 8-year-old twins.

In a heartbeat, our family was blown apart. We will never be the same.

* * *

She lived with us for about a year. We didn’t have a clue. Most of her friends had no clue. The stories I heard afterward while trying to dig into her unknown life just blew my mind.

The father of my twins is an addict — I found that out after going to an ultrasound for the twins at four months. After the doctor’s appointment, he apparently realized he was actually having two babies, and it sent him off the wagon. That was the end of things.

He isn’t allowed around the kids until he is clean. My daughter was adamant about this as well. She was 14 when they were born. She hated him for that.

His sister, the twins’ aunt, died from an overdose in February 2017. She was eight months pregnant. The baby also died.

My daughter was devastated by that. The aunt was well liked. We knew she was an addict and didn’t spend time with her, but before we knew, when I was pregnant and then when the twins were young, she visited. She was wonderful with them and very friendly with us.

My daughter also knew one of my best friends, who died from an overdose in October of 2019. I had broken off communication with him when I found out he was using.

This epidemic was all around us, it had already affected us, she saw all of it and hated drugs.

Then she ended up using them anyway.

* * *

I do not now, nor have I ever, used anything other than pot — and that was something I did in my youth rarely and maybe three times in adulthood. I’m 50. I have tried helping friends that used. I would always try to help them get clean, She saw that, but she also saw it rarely worked for long.

I don’t know. I still find it so hard to believe that she was using drugs and I had no idea.

I’m sorry if this sounds disjointed — I am not used to discussing these things with folks I don’t know. And it’s all still very raw.

I mean, my daughter’s urn is here on the table as I write this, awaiting burial. And all I keep thinking is, “This can’t be real. She had rented an Airbnb for her birthday for the following weekend. This isn’t happening.”

I hope this is a little of what you were looking for. I hope you write your story. I hope people read it. If it saves one person, one family, from this horror, you are a hero in my book.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #630 (Wednesday, September 15, 2021). This story appeared on page C6.

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Special Focus

Amid disruption from Covid, the opioid epidemic still rages on: Deaths by overdose have exceeded the casualties of COVID-19. With the problems and solutions of opioid use even more complicated by the pandemic, a new police chief in Brattleboro, and heightened awareness to shift focus to substance use as a medical condition, can we find a balance between public health and law enforcement? • Read story

• Can Vermont look for new approaches?: Other countries, like Switzerland and Portugal, have successfully moved away from punitive measures to attack opioid demand. Here, the public approach to the opioid epidemic is slowly homing in on a model that includes treatment, with some promising indicators of success. But one thing is still in the way: stigma. • Read sidebar

• ‘A very, very, very hard time — not just in Brattleboro, but everywhere in the world, of course’: For Brattleboro’s new police chief, Norma Hardy, addressing the crime of a drug epidemic will start with building trust with a community • Read interview

• ‘My daughter was really smart’: A mother describes a child’s descent into substance use and ultimate death from an overdose. • Read sidebar

• ‘You killed Joe. Enough!’: Two residents of Great River Terrace tell their story • Read sidebar

• Statistics don’t tell the story: ‘I came away from doing this project with deep admiration for those who work on the front lines, and deep empathy for those who have suffered the losses of this epidemic. I also came away with a deeper sense of how opioid addiction ravages a community, making people feel unsafe and angry and creating a general sense of disorder and grief.’ • Read Reporter’s Notebook

• About this section: Read credits

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