At 5 p.m. on August 4 2016, I received a phone call that changed my life forever. I was informed that my 22-year-old daughter, Megan Kelley had died from a drug overdose.
Megan was the sixth person our family knew in less than two years who died from a drug overdose in the Fox Cities, Wisconsin. Addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t care about your age, race, or your socioeconomic status.
Megan was the youngest of four. The last few years we got along great. During her teen years she was more than a handful. She was a good person who made a lot of poor choices, especially when she was in early adolescence, which landed her in the court system and in outpatient treatment. Back then she was diagnosed with Conduct Disorder and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Throughout it all she was always polite and nice.
Megan was a fun-loving girl who thought she was just having fun. Little did she understand that she set herself up for a lifetime of struggles, or that she would die at age 22 from her addiction. Megan liked to hang around with others who made poor choices. Two days before Megan turned 16, her former boyfriend broke into our house while she was alone and raped her. She reported the break-in, but not the rape. She was embarrassed and having been in trouble before, she somehow believed she would be blamed. I didn’t find out about the rape until five months later.
Early in 2015, my older daughter Michele told me Megan was addicted to Oxycontin. I knew that it was an opiate drug, but because it was a drug legally prescribed by a doctor, it didn’t seem that urgent. I now know that I should have pursued the issue. Several times over the course of a few months I tried talking to Megan, but I always received the same answer. I didn’t understand how highly addictive opioid drugs were. We have natural opioid receptors in our brains, which means we can become addicted the first time we use them.
In June of 2013, Megan started seeing a young man named Allen. In August, I moved out while Megan continued living at our home. Whenever I stopped by, Allen would be lying in bed. At the time, I didn’t understand that was a symptom of opiate use. I thought he was just lazy.
On November 2nd, 2014, Allen died from a drug overdose. He was 21 years old. Megan was extremely upset and never received counseling. After Allen died, his friends showed Megan how to inject heroin, which was cheaper and more accessible than Oxys.
By March, Megan told me she wanted to stop using drugs. This was the first time she admitted her drug use. She wanted me to pay for her to detox at a rapid detox facility in Detroit. The cost was $7,800.00 and my insurance wouldn’t cover it. Megan explained she didn’t want to go to rehab because of the withdrawal symptoms.
I’ve never personally used heroin and have no desire to try it, so I can’t say I know what it feels like. I understand that this drug is so powerful that consequences do not matter in the pursuit of feeling high. It’s like having a drug-craving demon in your brain. If you stop, you have another important demon in your brain: withdrawal, which can be an impetus for relapse because taking more drugs relieves the withdrawal. Fear of withdrawal is typically an impediment to getting treatment.
Chronic drug-taking changes the biochemical makeup of the brain. As drug taking continues, the drug begins to influence larger portions of the brain. Repeated drug taking produces the adaptive changes of tolerance and sensitization. When the drug is no longer present, the changed brain is out of balance and withdrawal symptoms occur.
I called the facility several times trying to figure out a way to pay for detoxing. Megan told me something bad was going to happen to her if I didn’t send her. I charged the $7,800.00 on a credit card. Megan felt horrible afterwards. She got home and within hours was checked into the hospital. When I went to visit I asked the nurse, “What’s wrong with my daughter?” She said Megan had pancreatitis. I asked how a 21-year-old gets pancreatitis and was told it was from heroin use. Megan admitted to injecting the drug. I thought she knew not to use heroin because I knew not to use it.
Three days after Megan was released from the hospital, she was arrested and charged with four felony counts involving heroin. Megan had her preliminary court hearing the next day where the DA told her she was facing 50 years in prison. As soon as Megan heard that, she screamed “Mom!” Her bail was set at $10,000.00. I didn’t have that kind of money, but charged it on a credit card.
Megan was free to go to work and live in the community under the condition that she report three times a week for random drug screens.
For five months, it appeared that Megan passed the drug tests. What I discovered though is that Megan’s ability to charm people with her story-telling resulted in far fewer random drug tests.
On September 18th, Megan and a male friend were driving to a restaurant when they were stopped by a police officer because her car windows were tinted too dark. Since Megan was a known drug user, the dogs sniffed for drugs. She tried to hide syringes underneath the car. Megan was re-arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia and bail jumping.
On December 11th, we arrived for Megan’s sentencing. She was sentenced to 12 months in the County Jail with Huber/GPS monitoring. Megan was denied treatment for 9 months, as a consequence of her drug charges. Megan’s sentence included 4 years’ probation and a 36 month prison sentence stayed and imposed.
On January 23rd, 2016, Megan failed a random drug screen. GPS monitoring was revoked for 30 days. Afterwards Megan was allowed to work at a local restaurant. Unfortunately, she met people there who were involved in drugs.
The day before Megan died, I talked to her four times. She was extremely ecstatic, as she was finally getting her car back (I had temporarily taken over the loan for her). Her sister Michele also talked to her at 11:30 p.m. Megan told her she was watching a movie with her dad. Michele texted Megan up until 2:30 a.m., but Megan never replied, which wasn’t unusual.
At 5 a.m. on April 14th, I received that fateful phone call from Megan’s dad. When my husband and I arrived, we met two police officers, the coroner, her dad and his girlfriend. I asked to see Megan, but was told to wait until the investigation was completed. Two women from the Crisis Center arrived. One of them said, “The sad thing is, no one is ever going to know what Megan died from.” I told her I’d see to it that they know.
I was finally allowed to enter Megan’s bedroom to see her. From her phone records, we could tell Megan died around 3 a.m. Megan was lifeless and discolored blue, red and purple. Rigor mortis had set in long before. I didn’t say a word; I don’t believe I even touched Megan. I just stared at her. I was in shock.
The stigmas of addiction keep people from getting help. I hate it when people say that it was Megan’s choice. I agree it was in the beginning, but not once she was addicted.
Unless we bring the issue of addiction and heroin use into the light, people are going to continue to die and their families are going to continue to walk in my shoes. I was forthcoming from the beginning and many people have thanked me for writing Megan’s obituary where I stated, Megan died unexpectedly after struggling with addiction. We believed she would be successful this time, but opiates are very powerful drugs taking many lives.
There are two takeaways to Megan’s story:
First, there is hope for recovery. I personally know several people who were addicted to heroin who are currently loving life without drugs. Just like addiction can happen to anyone, recovery is also possible for anyone.
Finally, adversity happens to everyone. It doesn’t matter what happens to you in life, it’s how you react that counts. Happiness is a choice and the purpose of life is to be happy. Megan understood this about life and happiness. Today, I’m in a club no parent ever wants to join, yet despite the horrendous loss of my daughter, Megan, she inspires me to choose happiness.