Carol Victor is a mother whose 34-year-old daughter has been addicted to opioids for many years. Carol believes her divorce, along with an injury that required OxyContin started her daughter on a long and torturous journey into the world of drugs. It tore their family apart. Is there still hope? Here’s part of her story…
SUSAN PONTING: What do you think about the government’s new Opioid Strategy?
CAROL VICTOR: “The government’s new opioid policy is short on solutions for the moment when a legal prescription is written and the doctor makes a subjective decision to give a particular patient these drugs. What are the consequences for the doctor if the patient abuses the use of the drug? Are we really set up for the electronic monitoring of all patients to see whether they are shopping for more outlets? Most of the recommendations are ‘after the fact.’ While I think that import surveillance and inspections are well intentioned, they are too late for many already hooked on opioids. Likewise nalaxone is well intentioned and its accessibility is critical, but again it is ‘after the fact.’ Prevention and early access to drug treatment is really the key and neither of these was available to my daughter – wait times are unrealistic unless you can afford to send the addict to the U.S. where questionable treatment is readily available.”
There is no greater impact than a mother writing, as you did in the Globe and Mail’s Letters to the Editor, “My daughter is a heroin addict,” as a parent – how do you cope with that reality?
“Not easily – it is hard to say these words when you picture your once lovely and happy adolescent now a depressed person living the lowest of lives. At first, like grief, you fight the reality, then you try to help the addict, then you realize that only they can help themselves and only when they are truly ready; and lastly you accept the reality of the situation. You cannot believe anything they say, you take terrible abuse, you rescue, and finally you just hope that they live from one week to another. Often you hear nothing for weeks or months.”
What were the signs that your daughter was struggling – is hindsight 20/20?
“She became very secretive and told numerous lies and she lost weight and said she was a vegetarian to hide her first disorder – anorexia. She didn’t show up for family functions and treated our home like a hotel. She dropped out of school and lost all interest in the numerous activities that had been critical for her in her early adolescence – ballet, skating, track and field etc. I knew there were issues and tried to get her to see a psychiatrist but none of the doctors we saw could help her…she sat at the sessions and said nothing. She tried suicide at one point and was admitted to hospital, but they were unable to help her with anything other than anti-depressants.”
How did your daughter initially get ‘hooked?’
“Because of the anorexia, she developed the initial symptoms of osteoporosis which culminated in severe pain. The family doctor prescribed Ocycotin she obviously liked it and went from walk in clinic to walk in clinic to get more. When this became too expensive and troublesome she went straight to heroin, which was cheaper and easier to get.”
What would you say to other parents, siblings, loved ones who are at the beginning of what you’re going through?
“I wish I knew – obviously some patients do get well but treatment must be available when you need it and you will probably have to pay for it, nevertheless it is useless if the addict doesn’t want help. In our case my husband and I were getting a divorce and this only compounded the situation – parents need to be on the same page and I can’t say this enough. My daughter knew how to manipulate us and this was to her detriment – my ex-husband continued to enable her and I tended to engage in more of a “tough love“ strategy. Learn about the resources in your area…I attended a parent group weekly and then joined Nar-Anon, a 12 Step program for the loved ones of drug addicts. This is a support group that shares experiences and gives participants strength and hope – but it does not directly help the addict.”
What hope do you hold out for your daughter now that she is living in L.A. – what gets to her most – do you communicate, or do you feel you’ve lost her – what’s the reality?
“I live for texts and phone calls that are infrequent – when I return calls I get voice mail continually – this year I could not send her a birthday card – I don’t know where she is living – I have nothing to give her for Xmas and I have no place to send it. She is truly lost to me and this loss happened many years ago. She visited us 2 years ago and insisted on putting out her garbage when she left – it contained needles and drug paraphernalia that we discovered as she was leaving. I totally lost it. I love her so much and this was unbelievably painful for me to witness.”
What do you think should be done about this that is not being done in the medical profession?
“Doctors must stop prescribing pills for everything, they have no sure way of knowing how medication will affect certain patients particularly those who are young and vulnerable and are still developing. There must be good psychiatric help available when patients need it – not a 6 month waiting period when so much can happen. Parents need to be given the information about what medications their children are being given. Privacy should be put aside, 18 is still too young in my opinion for a child’s parent to be excluded from their treatment. We have gone too far in terms of privacy, now this ‘private’ matter is very ‘public’ and it is resulting in heartbreak as more and more adolescents overdose.”
Note: We plan to have Carol as a guest of an upcoming Context program on Opioid Abuse.