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Opiate abuse a heartbreaking reality for Tallmadge mother

By ellin walsh | REporter Published: September 11, 2016 12:00 AM

Tallmadge -- "Parents of addicts are in a vicious cycle. There are periods of time when you don't hear from them and you hold your breath. And then there are periods when you hear from them and they're high and messed up and begging for things and you just want it to go away. It's a very sad way of life, and you're not sure which is better."

Becky, a grieving Tallmadge mother, recently shared the tale of her youngest daughter's descent into addiction, a journey which claimed her life May 31. Becky says she wants to end the silence surrounding the heroin epidemic in the hope of saving lives.

"We have a little bit of, 'Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil' going on in Tallmadge" Becky says, "but addicts are quite literally the boy or girl next door. We have to acknowledge that before we can begin to address the problem."

Becky's daughter, Kimberly, was raised in Tallmadge since the third grade, graduating from Tallmadge High and then pursuing studies at the University of Akron. Kim eventually left college to raise a family and worked in the home health care industry.

"She injured her back at work," Becky recalls, saying the opiates Kim was prescribed for pain were her gateway into dependency. Not only was Kim battling addiction, she was bipolar, her mom says, a situation where one condition fed on the other. Kim's older sister was addicted to prescription opiates, too.

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"I saw them changing doctors and it was a red flag for me," Becky says, "so I called a family meeting and they both admitted there was a problem. When they could no longer get pills through prescriptions, they were buying off the streets together. Our oldest daughter never did use heroin, but Kimberly, for monetary reasons, went to it because it's a cheap high."

Becky's older daughter has been clean for almost two years.

"So we've been blessed in that way," she says.

But for Kim, a divorce left her struggling financially and emotionally, so she and her children moved in with her parents. The situation was supposed to afford her the opportunity to get better herself, but soon she was using again, in and out of treatment, in and out of sobriety.

Becky and her husband have provided stability for Kim's children for a decade now. At the time of their mom's death, the children hadn't seen her in five years.

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"To them, she was a voice on the phone," Becky says, adding, "I would always remind them that it wasn't that she didn't love them -- it's that she didn't love herself enough."

From Becky's perspective, too many people are dying from drugs; she's sharing her pain in the hope it will prevent someone from putting themselves or their parents through the agony she's endured.

"Kim thought that running away was going to be the answer," Becky says, "though we spent lots of time trying to tell her if you don't solve the problem, it goes with you. At the same time, I think part of the reason she moved away was to protect her kids. I think her way of helping them was to let them go so she didn't drag them down the same path."

At times, over the years, when she had gotten clean, Kim was very remorseful about the choices she'd made. "There are times when addicts are very aware of what they've lost," her mom says, adding, "facing that can be unbearable."

On the day after Memorial Day, Kimberly, 34, used heroin for the last time. She was living in Wilmington, North Carolina, a city her mom says is suffering greatly from the heroin epidemic, too.

Last week, Becky recalled the last conversation she'd had with her "baby" about three weeks before.

"She was using again -- I could tell, my husband could tell -- and we both offered her a bus ticket home but she refused to leave the gentleman she'd been with for quite a while," she said. "We knew that the only way we were going to rescue her was if she was willing to get on that bus and she wasn't. She wouldn't leave the situation that would ultimately be her death."

When her parents traveled to Wilmington to pick up Kim's remains, they learned the city was averaging from four to 10 overdoses a week.

"Was I surprised? You can never prepare for that call, for somebody knocking at your door with that news, but we weren't completely taken off guard either," Becky confides. "We knew the course of addiction was either you get sober or you die. You can't stay an addict and use forever and there not be consequences.

"The drugs destroy and they will kill you and we had been on the journey for so long that while we talked to her often and prayed for her to get clean, it just didn't seem like she was capable of doing that on her own.

She had plans and hopes and dreams / and a demon named heroin."

Email: ewalsh@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9419

Twitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC

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