The Crisis of Addiction Hits Too Close to Home

September 16th, 2016, was a Friday like any other for Mary Gonzalez. She woke up early to drive her youngest daughter to school, spent the day cleaning and relaxing around the apartment, and around 9 p.m. she picked her daughter up from a high school football game. For one moment, everything was normal; she would wake up on Saturday and clean, go to work Sunday through Wednesday, and repeat the process. She never imagined that her life would change in an instant.

But it did.

At 6:30 that Saturday morning, Mary got a frantic call from her son-in-law. Mary’s oldest daughter, Rachel Frazier, had died overnight.

It was a heroin overdose.

Most people probably won’t remember exactly what they were doing at 6:30 that Saturday morning, but I do, because my alarm clock that morning was the sound of my mother’s screams. Mary’s screams.

Rachel was my big sister.

And we never saw this coming.

Rachel wasn’t the “stereotypical” addict - she didn’t spend her time getting high on street corners or stealing money for drugs. Before her death, she had never even used heroin. She had a problem with painkillers, but as far as anyone knew, she had it under control and was doing okay.

That seems to be the problem, though: the people you least expect can still get sucked up into the thralls of opioid addiction.

Rachel was a mother, a sister, a daughter, and a friend. She loved the band Pearl Jam, so much so that she named my nephew after the lead singer, Eddie Vedder. She loved video games like The Sims and you would never see her without a Diet Coke - she died with a can of it by her side.

And despite not being much of a people person, she had enough friends and family to fill up a Buddy’s Barbeque Ballroom for her celebration of life two weeks after her death.

“I never imagined this. This wasn’t Rachel,” wrote her nursing school friend Charlie Thomas-Mouse On Facebook.

Opioids are drugs used to relieve pain and relax the body, and they come in many forms; Vicodin, Percocet, and morphine are all opioids, but so is heroin. And the rate at which these drugs are being abused in the United States is cause for crisis. A mere 20 years ago, there were only 8048 opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States. But Rachel was one of over 42,000 opioid-overdose deaths in 2016.

Every day people are being prescribed painkillers for legitimate health concerns, and every day more and more people are becoming addicted to the drugs.

We never expected something like this to happen to us, to Rachel. We knew she struggled with painkiller addiction, but she seemed better. She was planning trips to Wisconsin and New York. She was happy - but she was still in pain, and when she moved from Texas to Ohio, she lost her access to the pills that she had become reliant on. In a moment of unrelenting pain, she tried heroin. Just once.

But it was laced with Carfentanil, a drug 10,000 times stronger than morphine, and within minutes it killed her.

Our country has a growing problem on its hands. People like Rachel are dying of opioid addiction at a rate that we’re not equipped to handle. But that doesn’t mean we’re not trying.

TN Together is a plan in place in Tennessee to quell the state’s opioid crisis through things like decreasing supply and dosage of prescription opioids, like Percocet and Vicodin, and giving more funding to treatment services. Rehabilitation and treatment centers are essential to helping those with abuse problems, as these programs are specifically designed to wean users off of drugs and provide them with healthy ways to fight the addiction.

Eventually my mother got back into her typical routine. Her schedule is once again predictable; she goes to work Saturday through Monday and spends her days off around the house. But the energy and motivation she once had has gone with the loss of Rachel. “Even if I have a smile on my face, my heart is broken. Everything reminds me of her and the world seems more empty without her.”

The opioid crisis doesn’t just affect the ones addicted; it afflicts a special kind of pain on the ones left behind.

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction of any kind, you can call the National Drug Helpline for assistance at 1-888-633-3239.