My world as I knew it came to a screeching halt on a bitterly cold day in January 2015. After seven years of battling the disease of addiction and the inadequate, broken system in place to treat those addicted, my son Matt succumbed to his disease.
Being Matt’s mother was tough. Combine this with the fact that I was a registered nurse and it became a nightmare. I watched his struggle to stay clean. I witnessed the roadblocks set firmly in place by the insurance industry, that restricted allowable treatment days. I endured their fail-first attitude that prevented immediate access to in-patient beds.
I witnessed the role of the medical community in overprescribing highly addictive opioids. I lived through the bias and stigma of this medical community – against the very same patients they were prescribing medication to. I watched as people went from being productive to being dependent on drugs that were handed out like harmless candy. I had no one in my corner to help me fight.
I never planned on becoming an advocate for those still fighting this battle. I wanted to disappear and guard my heart against further pain. I wanted to live a quiet life and remember my son. I thought I could bury my grief along with my son and find peace. I wanted addiction to be a part of my past. The last thing I wanted to do was immerse myself in addiction again.
What I didn’t understand was that once you’ve loved and lost your child from this misunderstood, mistreated disease it becomes a part of who you are. It courses through you, like blood flowing from your heart. Once you’ve lived the stigma and witnessed the hate, addiction becomes inescapable.
My journey began with my unexpected termination from a medical center to which I had devoted 36 years of my life. I was set free from the only life I’d known and thrust into endless free time. It gave me an opportunity to think and ponder all the wrong things I’d seen during Matt’s struggle.
Slowly I started compiling lists, including statistics from my state, Delaware. The more I uncovered, the stronger my convictions grew. My grief was replaced with a drive to change our broken system. I needed to make something positive from my pain and profound loss. I needed to honor Matt.
I had no idea what to expect when I found myself sitting in the office of Delaware’s Attorney General. Our first meeting turned into many more as I shared Matt’s story.
After many months of meetings and buckets of tears, three bills were drafted.
These Bills (listed left) were signed into law on May 30th, 2017. That day was bittersweet for me. How I wished Matt was there to see his mother, as I stood beside our governor, signing those hard-fought bills into law. Bills that would forever change the treatment for addiction in Delaware.
My heart is so full of regret and pride.
Read More: My Son is Dead: Changing the Way We Treat Addiction