When I got the toxicology results that confirmed Helanna’s death was from fentanyl poisoning I called the police officer that informed me of my daughter’s death.
I wanted to know if there would be an investigation so this didn’t happen to anyone else.
The conversation with the police officer and the confirmation that it was fentanyl were both incredibly painful.
If it wasn’t for fentanyl my daughter would still be here.
The CDC estimates that in 2020 more than 80% of overdose deaths were contributed to synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl so how we address this issue going forward is critical.
I was told my daughter’s death wouldn’t be investigated because they couldn’t get into her phone and it would take too much time.
When I questioned that he told me to listen up because what he was about to tell me was really important.
My daughter knowingly and willingly committed a crime by using heroin and there’s a risk associated with that, and her death is the result of her choice to commit a crime.
He was right about that, her choice lead to her death, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t poisoned by someone cutting drugs with fentanyl.
I had to dig really deep and decide that I wouldn’t be a victim of this man’s mindset.
I would choose a path that made me proud of how I showed up for myself, my daughter, anyone struggling with addiction, and other families that will lose a loved one to fentanyl.
I leaned into my discomfort and tried to plant some seeds of change in him.
Something that helped me in that moment was remembering this post that I’m linking from Safe Home podcast.
It gave me some guidance about what to say.
I shared that fentanyl isn’t a problem just for mothers like me, it’s a problem that could affect anyone in our society because fentanyl is now the number one killer of people ages 18-45.
Lives are at risk whether they are someone who struggles with addiction or are a kid that gives into peer pressure at a party and takes a Xanax that turns out to be fentanyl.
Then he told me about how he taught his teen age son what’s right and wrong and so his son knows better.
I remembered back to what it was like when I used to think like him.
I used to judge other parents when I heard about kids using drugs or committing drug related crimes.
When I realized I had become that parent I used to judge, my perception changed.
My judgement changed to compassion for those parents because I knew how hard I tried to “raise my daughter the right way” and yet things still went terribly wrong.
Then he pointed out how there’s so many people overdosing that it’s clogging the medical system and people who are having heart attacks aren’t always getting proper treatment.
I asked him how we should grade the value of people’s lives.
Many diseases and health issues are related to lifestyle choices.
Why do some unhealthy choices like being stressed out all the time, over working, being sedentary, and eating a high fat diet that leads to heart disease make one person’s life more valuable than someone who uses drug related substances?
Why don’t we see people as imperfect humans who are struggling to meet their needs instead of judging and ranking their choices as better or worse?
I fought the shame of the stigma of addiction throughout the whole phone conversation and even writing about this experience.
Shame wants me to stay quiet and not expose myself to any more judgement.
That’s the problem though, shame and stigma keep the people from speaking up to create change, it keeps loved ones and those struggling with addiction from seeking help, and it creates a very painful separateness.
If you find yourself judging me, or my daughter, or you think my insights are way off – ask yourself why.
Do you truly understand addiction and how it affects the brain?
My lack of understanding of addiction caused me to resist Helanna’s addiction instead of being able to support her recovery the first few years.
When we arm ourselves with relevant resources, learn about addiction, and we treat people who are struggling with compassion, then we can reduce stigma and make changes that matter.
As I was trying to educate myself about addiction there were two things that really resonated with me.
The first is Portugal’s drug policy.
Their approach is much different than ours in the United States.
Here’s a link to an article about it.
The second thing is a book called Beyond Addiction, How Science and Kindness Help People Change.
This book gave me a mindset and tools that I could use even when my daughter was in active addiction and wasn’t ready to quit.
I’m including a link to CMC foundation for change so you can look up the book and also get their free 20 minute guides for helping a loved one change their relationship with substances.
It’s hard for me to share these things but if it changes just one person’s mindset about addiction and fentanyl then it’s worth it to me.