Alicia Palermo-Reddy, a Staten Island nurse, is known as the “addiction angel” for helping hundreds of families dealing with opioid addiction. These are stories of two of the people she’s encountered.
It was two years ago when I got the first call from Nicole. She was worried about her 15-year-old sister, who was using drugs and behaving strangely. Her parents were at a loss, and I asked Nicole to have them call me. When they didn’t, I wasn’t surprised.
I wasn’t surprised either when I heard from Nicole a second time. Her sister Erin, now 17, had overdosed on heroin and was found unconscious on the bathroom floor. First responders saved her life, and Nicole convinced her parents they had to call me. They had to act before it was too late.
I worked with them to get Erin admitted to a detox program out of state and to do just about the hardest thing a parent can do. At her bedside in the ER, they told Erin that they loved her so much they would do literally anything to keep her from destroying herself.
They meant she would be going through detox and then into a monthslong residential rehab program. Her only alternative to that would be prison or commitment to a psychiatric hospital. She would not be coming home.
There is no happy ending to Erin’s story yet and won’t be for months, maybe years. But she’s drug-free and in rehab now, with the chance for a new beginning.
Her parents didn’t act sooner because they just didn’t know how. They didn’t ask for help because they felt that no one could possibly understand their daughter’s problem because they couldn’t understand it themselves. It’s a common problem for parents with the potential for tragic consequences.
Addicts are like snowflakes. Every one is different on the way down, but they look a lot alike when they hit the ground. That’s where I found Mike, at rock bottom.
Mike was an athlete. His problem started when a shoulder injury ended his days as a college jock. By then opioids were turning up at campus parties, and the oxycodone prescription he got after surgery felt like a gift. In just a few weeks, he was hooked.
When the truth came out, his parents sent Mike away to a six-month rehab program. While he was away they actually moved out of state so he wouldn’t come home to his old friends and hangouts.
After rehab, Mike’s life was a dream. He got a job with a good future, he found Maggie, the love of his life, and they decided to get married. Before long, there was a baby on the way, and he forgot he ever had a problem.
Then reality intervened. Their daughter, Annie, was born with a birth defect that required five surgeries and months in the hospital. Then Maggie suddenly lost her grandmother, who had been watching over Annie while her parents were at work.
Maggie was bereft, Annie was still recovering, and Mike relapsed under the weight.
That’s when I got the call from Mike, who said his baby had saved his life.
Annie will turn 2 in August, and Mike celebrated his first “birthday” in sobriety not long ago. For Annie’s sake and his own, he’s staying with the Twelve Steps now, taking it one step at a time.
Healing can happen. Mike is proof. But it can un-happen, just like that, as Mike’s story shows.
Alicia Palermo-Reddy invites readers whose lives have been touched by the scourge of opioid addiction to send her their stories. She will select a limited number to publish and offer her experience with similar cases. Names will be withheld for the sake of privacy but must be verified before publication. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.