2,698 Days Later

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

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
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  • I will share with all the parents I know, thanks for your commitment to changing the direction some of our kids are headed in. Sincere condolences on your loss, Grace & Peace

  • Any time a parent loses a child it is tragic. It is not the normal life sequence because we aren’t supposed to outlive our children. As difficult as it is to understand and accept the loss of a child through accidents and disease it is especially heartbreaking to lose a child to drugs. This kind of loss requires an understanding that isn’t easily fathomed and an acceptance almost impossible to cope with effectively. No matter what the age 19, 29, 39 or more – the pain of loss, or the fear that you will lose a child this way, can only truly be eased by those who have been there. Thank you for sharing your story and for answering the call to aid those who need that special understanding.

  • Verla, I have seen this so many times first hand. At the age of 23, I had buried 5 of my lifetime friends, and all these deaths related directly to substance abuse. Even knowing that I was no different than they, there came a time in my life that all the things people had said in confidence or sharing their hearts worried about my well being came back to me as a beacon of hope. The art of communication seems to be lost between people that should be close, it was that very thing that makes my life so great. Keep up the good work and I’ll see you soon.


  • This is a wonderful thing you are doing in her memory. I encourage you and thank you.

    Sandy LaCagnina

  • Thank you Verla for sharing your story and advice to those of us out here Praying not to lose another Child. It has been an Honor getting to know you and work with you on the Coalition. May God continue to Bless your work.
    All my Love Carla

  • dear verla, and all other moms and dads of addicts who are no longer with us! i am clean since nov,8th 1977. at age 23 i recieved this precious gift of recovery,I have a beautiful life today as a result of my service and commitment to the process. it has been nearly 12. 200 or so days since i last needed to medicate myself. i have lost scores of friends from aids, overdoses, hepatitus, suicides and every other way in which to die from heroin addiction. i have three beautiful children, today my twins are 21 years old, they have never seen me drink, use or evcen smoke a cigarette. they know me only as a man who wakes up in the middle of the night to help save lives of those in need. they know service and love for others in need of help. i have written three books since being clean, i came into recovery with a 4th grade education, i have batteld most anything life can throw at one in recovery, cancer (radiation treatment) hepatitus(interfuron)child sickness(autopimmune diseases that are deadly)poverty in recovery, even had to go back to jail a couple times! i’ve stayed clean and never lost my focus, never forgot where i came from and most importantly, i never went without a support system, sponsor,activity to my program, service to others and plain old showing up when i didn’t want to. we just honored two families that lost loved ones to heroin, one boy died in 1975 his mom never came out in public and discussed, she did two weeks ago and we presented her with a speacial coin for her beautiful boys life, the life she gave to him. she was proud of him for the first time in nearly 40 years. the other family lost their brother to aids, they recieced a coin for there brother as well, they though god shone a light down just for him. i love my life, i would do anything to help another human being with his or her recovery, in fact if i don’t, i don’t deserve mine. once again, moms and dads who lost children, i hold you in the utmost esteem and commend you on your perseverance and strength. may god continue to bless you all,

    rich d

  • I just got on this website and can’t believe how many parents are losing their kids to this diease of addiction. I lost my son Mark 9 weeks ago to heroin at the young age of 19 years old. Too smart, too handsome and had everything going for him to die like this. Still can’t believe he’s not here anymore. Going through this now as a parent is making me realize how bad it is really getting out there for teens and peer pressure. I think all you parents would agree that until it happens to you, you really can’t imagine what it is really like to lose a child to addiction. I know I will never be the same again!