My name is Jennifer Kelly and I am from Tolland, Connecticut. Tolland is the type of town you would picture in a Norman Rockwell painting with approximately 13,000 residents it was voted the 34th best small town to live in, and raise a family in 2015. For all intents and purposes Tolland should be the perfect town to raise your children. As a single mom I moved to Tolland with just those hopes. As this Opioid/Heroin epidemic took hold of Connecticut I quickly realized that no town in Connecticut was safe. From the biggest Connecticut cities to the most affluent suburbs, heroin and other opiates are claiming the lives of residents at an alarming rate. My daughter became one of heroin’s victims.
My young, beautiful and free-spirited twenty-one year old daughter, Justice, suffered from an anoxic brain injury after a sudden cardiac arrest on August 23, 2015. A week prior to this life-changing event, Justice was denied her life saving asthma medication by her insurance company. The unfortunate series of events started when her purse was stolen which included this essential medication, but Justice was also a heroin addict. Heroin came before anything else, as a result, Justice went a week without her maintenance medication which, as a severe asthmatic, was essential for her survival.
On the morning of August 23rd, Justice happened to be visiting me at home. We watched a movie together and had a really nice talk about life. It was the first time in a very long time that we had the opportunity to spend together. Not long after the movie started, Justice left my room to go play with her cat Max. After she left my room I decided to turn the movie off and get on with my day when I heard a terrible scream. I raced down the stairs to find Justice on the floor gasping for air. My instinct at that moment was to get her in my car and get her to the emergency room. I live about 4 minutes from the local ER.
On the way she begged me to run the red lights, which I did. I rubbed her back and in as calm of a voice as I could muster, I told her everything would be all right. As we pulled into the parking lot of the emergency room Justice’s whole body seized, and I knew at that moment I was losing her. I ran into the emergency room and screamed for help. A triage nurse was there and followed me to my car. As I opened the car door, I saw her little face blue, her body not moving and I screamed and begged God to not take my little girl.
All I remember from that moment on was being more scared than I have been in my entire life. I saw a whole team of people come outside and try and save my daughter’s life. I stood there helpless and alone. All I could do was look to God.
They saved my daughter’s life that day, but it’s been a very hard journey. Justice’s injury is so severe that the likelihood that she will ever recover is very slim. More than likely I will have to make the decision to bring my daughter home with hospice care. No parent should be faced with these decisions. I have fought right beside her before, during, and after this horrific event. For months, I tried to get Justice help for her heroin addiction, but help for substance abuse is a very difficult thing in Connecticut.
What we lack in Connecticut, much like what the rest of the country lacks, are treatment beds, and the essential services to combat this epidemic. I spent countless hours trying to find a bed for my daughter only to be told repeatedly to “call back in the morning”. As a parent of a heroin addict, you learn very quickly that tomorrow morning is too late. I can tell you there is nothing more heart-wrenching for a parent then the feeling of helplessness when your efforts to help your child are useless. On one particular day I called every detox/rehab center in Connecticut to try and get my daughter a treatment bed. I begged, I pleaded, but not one place would take her. Phone call after phone call, same answer, “call back in the morning”. My daughter walked out the door that day and I knew I had lost her forever.
Heroin took my daughter. She was 21 years old when this happened. She had barely lived. She never owned her own car, she never traveled the world. She never married or had children. She won’t see her brothers grow to be good men, or meet her future nieces or nephews. My daughter will never dance again. She will never see an amazing sunset, or feel the warmth of the sun on her beautiful face. I will never hear my daughter’s beautiful voice again or hear her call me mom. Heroin took that all away. We all failed my daughter. All those times she reached out for help and was denied we failed her. I have to live with this for the rest of my life. I have to live with the fact that if we had better programs, and offered substance abusers the services they so desperately need that just maybe my little girl would still be with me today. What if I told you that your child could not get treatment for cancer because the funds or programs were not available? How would you feel knowing you would have to watch your child slowly die? These are things that parents of substance abusers are faced with every day.
Her story is like so many. We are losing an entire generation of people, and a generation of people are being left behind. In a recent conversation I had with my daughter’s best friend who is 22 . I asked her how many people had she lost to a heroin overdose. Her answer stopped me in my tracks. She has lost seven people to this horrible epidemic in 3 years! So my question is, what is this doing to the ones that are left behind? What services will we need to provide to all those affected by this epidemic. It is more than just the addict, the devastation of this epidemic is far reaching.
Justice is my only daughter, my girl, my dream, she was my everything. I am in the process of starting a non-profit, because I believe that no other person should have to fight to get help for addiction in this country like my daughter did. Our non-profit is gaining momentum not only in Connecticut, but nationwide as well. We are committed to ending the stigma of addiction by bringing education and awareness to the forefront of this war. Please on behalf of my daughter and every person who struggles with an opioid/heroin addiction join me in the fight to end the stigma by keeping the conversation going and educating our youth. Reach out to your legislators, tell them we are fed up. We are stronger together!