"It's heartbreaking to think how many parents are out there who've told nobody and don't know where to turn."

I grew up in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. My husband was transferred to Lehigh county, and that’s where we are today. I went to college here, and we’ve been in the area since the ’90s. Currently, I have a son who’s 25 and a daughter who’s 21.  My daughter Morgan is beautiful, smart, and talented. She was always involved in theater and performed as a ballerina.   She was really devoted to these things and driven to become better in them. We were happy that she was confident and happy doing something that she loved.

When she was in tenth grade, we found out that she was physically harming herself. She covered it up well, so we didn’t notice. After getting her help, her condition seemed to improve and she eventually graduated. She did well during her freshman year at Temple, but came back different than when she had left. We don’t know what happened, but the confident, free-spirited girl was gone. It was also around this time that she underwent surgery.

She received OxyContin after the surgery, but I didn’t see any issues arise out of those medications. She was prescribed OxyContin a year before, after getting her wisdom teeth taken out, and she didn’t seem to have any issues then either. I had heard a lot about kids getting addicted to opioids after receiving prescriptions, but didn’t see that situation occurring with Morgan. That might’ve been due to the fact that she was off at Temple, and I didn’t see her that much.

By her junior year, Morgan was sick all time and transferred to a school here. Things just didn’t seem right. I’d ask her if she was using anything, but she’d get angry with me for even suggesting the possibility. One day, I texted her and her response was just a bunch of jumbled words. I called and asked if she was okay, and she replied that she was fine. I drove to her anyway, and she did actually seem okay. Two days later, she totaled her car. The responding police officers didn’t want to leave her on the side of the road after midnight, so they brought her to the station. When we picked her up, she seemed fine and the police didn’t notice anything either. She got a new car, and rear-ended a car only a few months later. We asked what was going on, and she said she wasn’t paying attention to the road.

In February, we got a call from Morgan that she was in Hahnemann hospital. She said she was at a concert and had passed out from exhaustion and heat; she had a seizure as well. My sister had passed away from a seizure, and I told Morgan that she needed to see a neurologist. She kept telling me she was fine though. When we picked her up from the hospital, we noticed that she had no paperwork. She said that she never received any. Looking back on it, I think Morgan overdosed on heroin and was trying to hide it from us. We went out for Mother’s day a few months later, and she was having a lot of joint pain. It got worse the next day and she began vomiting. We took her to the doctor and they put her on muscle relaxants and an antibiotic.

She went back and finished her semester, but was still sick when she came back. She couldn’t get out of bed and had to text her father; he took her to the emergency room. Whenever the doctors spoke with Morgan, she wanted us to leave. I told my husband that something was wrong. If I was 19, and in the hospital, I’d be terrified to be alone. We eventually found out that she had a lung infection that originated from her heart.  We asked the doctors how it could have happened, and they didn’t really have an answer for us. Morgan was becoming sicker and they kept giving her antibiotics. She went into kidney failure, but survived. It was a terrifying situation.

As a child, Morgan had Kawasaki’s disease, and I began researching if there was a link between that and her recent visit to the hospital. IV drug use consistently came up as a cause of endocarditis. I informed my husband of what I had learned. He told me there was no way she was using IV drugs.

I decided to search her room; I felt guilty for doing so. I saw her makeup bag on the dresser and emptied it out. At the bottom of everything were a bunch of needles. I lost it and started screaming for my husband. He couldn’t believe it when he saw the needles and heroin.

We took everything to the hospital to show the doctors what she was doing. It was then that we found out; the doctors already knew. Morgan had told the doctors not to tell us that she was using heroin, and due to HIPAA laws, they followed her request. We came in and told Morgan that we knew she was using heroin.

She began to cry. It still didn’t seem like a big deal to her though. She had the mentality that her use was now in the open, and she wouldn’t do it anymore. We told her she was going to rehab. We later found out that she was doing everything under the sun to make money for drugs. Discovering that she had secret life was incredibly horrifying.

I had read stories about the epidemic, but never thought it would happen to me personally. I had no idea where to get help. I didn’t tell my sister or her husband. I felt like they had the perfect family where this could never happen. I couldn’t tell my friends either, all their kids were graduating and getting jobs; mine was addicted to heroin. I just told everyone that she had pneumonia. I stopped going to the grocery store that I had shopped at for years. I didn’t want to run into anyone who might ask about Morgan.

Despite this, I really needed to talk to other people about it. I found a narcotics anonymous meeting and went to it. I couldn’t talk, and cried through the whole meeting. Even in these meetings, I felt a bit like an outcast. While several drugs were discussed, I felt like heroin was the worst and felt people were looking at me and thinking “what kind of a parent raises a heroin addict?”

A few weeks before I learned of Morgan’s addiction, I saw a Facebook post made by an acquaintance from school. She posted about her son passing away due to addiction. After learning of Morgan’s addiction, I needed to reach out to someone for help. I sent her a message in the middle of the night. I wrote that I had just found out my daughter was using heroin and didn’t know what to do. We were strangers, and I thought she would think I was crazy; she got right back to me though. She told me she’d get me in touch with someone and that Morgan needed to get into treatment immediately. It felt great to hear someone tell me that they were going to help me out.

Morgan was eventually released from the hospital. She didn’t think she had a problem though and was hesitant to go into treatment. When we brought the heroin to the hospital to show the doctors, the police were called. The state troopers came in to question her and told her that she needed to go to treatment. She went because she thought there was pending legal action against her if she didn’t; not because she felt it was needed. We found a place in Boston and drove up every weekend to visit her. We began to notice an angry persona coming out. They kept her for only 21 days, because she was already detoxed by the time she entered. The treatment center was not staffed well, and Morgan saw a therapist only two times in the 21 days she was there. The center was later shut down after two deaths occurred there.

I eventually found a treatment house in Cape Cod for women. They didn’t accept insurance, so instead we paid it out of pocket. It was a beautiful home and thought she’d love it. This didn’t turn out to be the case. It had an intense treatment philosophy and structure that Morgan couldn’t get behind. She just didn’t like talking about her drug problem. We’d visit her every weekend, but now, I wish we hadn’t. I wanted to control what was going on, but should’ve left her to figure things out on her own.

I finally told my sister what was happening. She and her husband were nothing but supportive. It was horrifying to tell them though. There was a woman on Facebook whose child took dance lessons with mine. She always posted things about recovery, so I reached out to her. She would call and text me, but I was too afraid to respond; I felt too ashamed. I did finally tell her though. She took me to a support group held by Caron, and it saved my life.  I’ve made friends through the meetings and feel that I can open up around them. Things are better, but I still live in fear. When my phone rings in the middle of the night, I’m always scared it’s going to be bad news about Morgan. Today, she is in a sober living house in Huntingdon Valley and is working. I think she’s doing well, but I am not sure if she fully embraces treatment. She doesn’t really talk with us about her drug problem with us. I honestly don’t know what to tell other parents, because I thought I was doing everything right. I thought this only happened to kids who live with little to no supervision.

This is why I am sharing my story, because this can happen to anyone. Morgan was sweet, had great grades, and was committed to her passions. Parents should maintain an open mind and keep an eye on who their kids are spending time with. If your kids are getting surgery, be sure to have a discussion about opioids before they receive the prescription. If you do find out your child is addicted, tell your family. I was in the worst downward spiral when I isolated myself. I regret that I waited so long to tell my sister. It’s heartbreaking to think how many parents are out there who’ve told nobody and don’t know where to turn. I want those parents to know that there’s a lot of good people out there who are waiting to help.

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