Last week, I read, with a heavy heart, the Washington Post story about 19-year-old Alicia Lannes—one of four young people who died as a result of a teen-organized heroin ring in the comfortable suburban town of Centreville, VA.
It was a story I knew all too well.
2,698 days have passed since I received the call—the one that all parents fear most. As I listened, shocked beyond belief, I can truly say that time stood still. It was the hospital—or to be more specific, the coroner’s office:
“We’re sorry to inform you, Ma’am, but your daughter has been found deceased in her apartment,” they said in a cold, detached tone, almost like they were giving me a weather report.
I remember little about the next few days; surrounded by family and friends, I said an impossible goodbye to Misty, who, like Alicia, was only 19. I had so many questions and no real explanation.
Five months later, a brown envelope arrived with my daughter’s toxicology/autopsy report. As I read all 54 pages, sick inside knowing what they had to do to her body to get these answers, the words “GHB/Oxycodine” were written as the cause of death. I remember thinking, “What?!?”
With an IQ of 142, Misty had started college at the age of fifteen. She was a brilliant, funny, and determined young woman who seemed destined for success. A middle class mother of four, I was entirely naïve about teenage substance abuse and never imagined that my child could get into drugs. How could this have happened?
So, my quest began. I enrolled in school and am now an LCDC Intern and a prevention specialist. 7 years 4 months and 19 days later, I now understand that there are many faces of addiction; even “good kids” who have been brought up with every advantage—like my daughter and the children of Centreville—are not immune.
Recently, I became the coordinator of Phoenix House’s Roots of Change Coalition in Texas. I now work with men and women who have faced similar tragedies as a result of their children’s substance abuse; these individuals have helped me through my grieving process. Together, we strive to educate other parents about teen addiction and to change our communities. I know that this is what Misty would have wanted me to do. Looking back, I realize that if I had been armed with the prevention strategies I now share with others, I might have saved her.
Some of the applications are simple, but often ignored, like keeping alcohol from being accessible to teens and locking up prescription medications. But one of the most effective ways to help prevent teenage alcohol and drug use is eating together at the dinner table. Between Misty’s schoolwork, her part time job, and her involvement with the Monterey Bay oceanography club, we often grabbed dinner on the go or ate at different times. Now, with my youngest still at home, we make it a priority to sit down together—even when our schedules are jam-packed. Sharing a family meal has been statistically shown to help communication, strengthen commitments, and provide an opportunity for open dialogue—all of which reduce the likelihood of substance abuse in children.
So, this Thanksgiving, look around your house, check your wine and medicine cabinets—and, as you pass your kids the mashed potatoes and gravy, remind yourself that family mealtime shouldn’t be a special occasion, but a daily habit.
Think of it as life insurance.Verla Bruner LCDCI, Prevention Specialist The Roots of Change Coalition, Phoenix House Montgomery County, Texas Back to Index