“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind” ~ Dr. Seuss
The reason the quote from Dr. Seuss is here is for Olivia. She loved to quote him and that is one her all-time favorites that speaks volumes for who she was. I want to share her story to be part of the solution so maybe some good can come from her death.
Nothing in this life can prepare you for the loss of a child. I can tell you absolutely nothing can prepare you for finding them yourself.
On April 3, 2012 at 7am I went to Olivia’s bedroom to wake her for school. The light was off and she was sitting in bed with her computer in her lap, she was leaning over with her forehead on her comforter. I could hear the faint but incessant beeping I had heard when I first came in to the hallway was louder in her room but could not figure out where it was coming from. I called her name. She did not answer. She did not move. I called her name again telling her she was going to be late for school. Still she did not answer or move. Now I was starting to get a panicky feeling. I went to her and I could tell something was very wrong. I touched her and she was ice cold. In my panic I pushed her back and I knew immediately she was gone. The beeping I had been hearing was coming from where her finger had been on a key on her computer. I started to scream that she was dead – over and over and over again – I could not stop. Somehow I wound up on the floor outside my son’s bedroom desperately trying to find a phone to call 911. I was screaming for my partner, Tom to help her. Tom came running not understanding what was going on, He thought all the screaming was the two of us in an argument. I had managed to dial 911 but could not speak to the operator. I gave the phone to Tom and he spent the next 15 minutes checking for any sign of life in her lifeless body.
The next thing I remember I was sitting in the living room with my son beside me. Apparently I just kept saying that everything was going to be fine… A very tall police officer came in to the living room and I could tell just by the look on his face that nothing was ever going to be “fine” again. There were policemen, detectives, paramedics and the coroner’s office in my house. The police chaplain was asking if I needed help notifying family and friends. It wasn’t even 7:30 am.
At around 8:30 that morning the coroner’s office was getting ready to take Olivia away to perform an autopsy. Everyone wanted me to leave before they had to take Olivia out of the house. They did not want me to see her leave like that. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done; to walk out knowing that I would never again see her in the house. Tom and my mother (my mother, father and brother had been called to come to the house) remained behind with the police and watched as the coroner took my daughter out wrapped in a black bag on a stretcher and loaded her into their van.
That morning is a blur of images and sounds, like a movie that cuts in and out – Hearing my son try to comfort me and tell me everything would be okay. Cringing at each flash in Olivia’s bedroom as I realized the police were taking pictures. Of not being able to go down the hall as her room was being treated as a crime scene. Realizing she had to go for an autopsy. Fifteen year old kids don’t just die in their sleep and I could not process what had happened!
I later found out from the police that on the evening of April 2, 2012 Olivia’s boyfriend purchased 2, 24mg capsules of Hydromorphone (Dilaudid). At 4:30pm and 6:30pm they both inhaled half of the capsules each. They were supposed to be watching movies and hanging out. Her boyfriend woke up the next morning but Olivia did not. Why did he wake up and she didn’t? None of it made sense.
As a mother this is the most excruciating experience that I have ever had to go through. Not one that I could imagine let alone think I could survive. I now had to live every day of the rest of my life without my child, her brother without his sister. I miss her every day, her smile, her laugh, her unique spirit. No parents should ever have to plan their child’s funeral! Here I had to plan Olivia’s and I didn’t even know officially why she had died! I didn’t even know her final wishes – did she want to be buried or cremated? I was lost and overwhelmed and just hoped and prayed it was all just a horrible mistake.
It would take 6 long tortuous months to find out the results of the autopsy. It was so cruel to have to wait that long. I kept emailing and calling the detective in charge of her case to see if they had any information to give me, then on October 3rd – 6 months exactly since she had passed away I got the autopsy results in the mail. I was utterly devastated to find out she had died from an Accidental Hydromorphone Intoxication. She died from taking the Dilaudid with her boyfriend that night. That was it – no cancer, no heart disease, no tragic medical condition that was missed. There was no party, no rave, no dance and no alcohol involved. One minute she is watching a movie and eating chocolate and the next she is lying in a morgue.
I struggled with the fact that she contributed in any way to her own death and I desperately did not want anyone to think poorly of her. She was not a drug addict or a low-life, she was such a great kid with an amazing spirit. She stood up for her beliefs even if most did not agree. She danced to the beat of her own drummer and was not afraid to be different and unique. She was also a risk taker and at 15 thought she was 10 feet tall and bullet-proof as most teenagers do.
I had no idea that my 15 year old daughter would have access to let alone was experimenting with something so dangerous that it would kill her. She was a Grade 9 High Honor student in Junior High who had a part-time job at McDonalds. She was a competitive bowler for 7 years who spent her summers at the Boys and Girls Club. She had such a bright future. As a typical teen I knew she would experiment and make some mistakes. Not once did I think she would die from her mistakes.
Unfortunately, those responsible for the death of such an amazing young girl will ever have to atone for their involvement. I am hoping by telling Olivia’s story that there may be a chance that we can spare other parents, family or friends from having to experience this horror.
The doctors that prescribe this and other end-of-life chronic cancer treatment drugs for mild to moderate routine pain need to be accountable for the accessibility of this drug. Too many people are being prescribed these deadly and addictive medications when far less dangerous alternatives will work just as well if not better. When someone goes to an emergency room or their family doctor with routine pain they should not walk out with a prescription for a powerful and dangerous narcotic. We need to offer alternative medicine such as physiotherapy, chiropractors and massage as part of our MSI program so people don’t have to turn to drugs which are currently covered, especially for those on Pharmacare, with low incomes or no medical coverage.
When a person dies in the home where these drugs are present due to medical conditions then the drugs should be removed with their body. The drugs are no longer required and in fact are calling cards for criminals to break in and steal them. Right now there is no law that demands these drugs be removed and no one agency wants to be responsible. The disposal of medications is currently left to the grieving family members who are likely in no shape even think of them as a danger.
If you have no other choice and have to have these drugs in your home PLEASE LOCK THEM UP! The last thing you want is for your child or their friends to become one of the 75 % of kids who try a prescription drug for the first time to get it from you!
Those that sell, share or give their prescription pain pills away need to be charged! This is illegal! They have to be held accountable for their actions and choices as Olivia ultimately was for hers. The Crown Prosecutor for Nova Scotia needs to be allowed to proceed with criminal cases involving this opiate and other prescription drugs regardless of the possible outcome. This is not an issue that society needs to be ashamed of and hide from; this is a major issue that affects both the young and old, rich and poor. This is in the junior highs and high schools and it needs to be addressed. Education needs to be focused on drug awareness more so than ever at an earlier age. The curriculum was amended in 2015 to start teaching “critical thinking” about situations involving drugs and alcohol at the Grade 7-9 level. This is a start. The potential to die from these narcotic drugs is very real. I have a box in my living room with my daughter’s ashes as proof.
The 2012 Nova Scotia Student Drug Use Survey stated that the drug of choice of Grade 7 students who responded was not tobacco… not alcohol… not even marijuana… it was prescription pain medication! That statistic is jaw-dropping and so is this one – from 2007 to 2011 in Nova Scotia an average of 7 people died every single month due to a prescription drug overdose! The year Olivia died, 2012, 62 people died in NS and yet almost no one ever hears about these deaths due to stigma and shame. We need to not be silent and embarrassed. We need to get their stories out because every single person that dies was loved by someone and is missed terribly.
Nothing will change unless we make change happen ~ Dale Jollota