Beth Schmidt lost a child to heroin. She wants you to keep yours
By Jon Kelvey and Carroll County Times
Apr 27, 2015 | 8:24 PM
Beth Schmidt lost her son, Sean, to a drug overdose in late 2013. He was one of the first victims of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid drug that is many times more potent than the heroin. Sean thought he was injecting heroin, which is why his decision to use that day, after more than a year of sobriety, turned fatal.
Schmidt now speaks out about addiction and what it's like to be a parent of a child struggling with drug abuse. She works with the Carroll County Chapter of the Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates, a statewide advocacy organization Schmidt describes as a peer support group for families struggling to find their way through the difficult territory of addiction and recovery.
Schmidt will be one of the many speakers at the Drug and Violence Awareness Expo at the Carroll County Agricultural Center's Shipley Arena on Friday, May 1. It's a collaboration involving law enforcement, prevention professionals, people in recovery and concerned parents. The Drug and Violence Awareness Expo is aimed at bringing the community together to grasp the reality and scope of the problems of drug abuse and domestic violence in Carroll, as well as to formulate solutions.
The expo will take place 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and will also feature speakers from the State's Attorney's Office, the Carroll County Health Department, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Women's Law Center. Schmidt, together with Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor at the Carroll County Health Department, will be presenting from 1 to 1:30 p.m.
Schmidt spoke with the Times about the upcoming expo and the problem of drug addiction and overdoses.
Q: What are you planning to speak about at the upcoming Drug and Violence Expo?
A: I will be sharing the story of my son, Sean's, death. Sean died of an opiate overdose on Dec. 16, 2013, just two days after his 23rd birthday. He had been drug free for over a year and was about to go back into addiction treatment.
Q: How is this relevant to what's happening in Carroll County right now?
A: Sean was one of more than a dozen overdose victims in Sykesville — graduates from Century and Liberty [high schools] — within a little over one year. This number has more than doubled since then.
Sean was the very first Carroll County victim of fentanyl. What we thought was a heroin overdose was actually 100 percent pure manufactured fentanyl. Sean was given a capsule of death. Fentanyl is 80 times more potent than morphine — he never stood a chance. Sean was a victim of addiction, a victim of stigma and the victim of a drug dealer trying to make a name for himself. Fentanyl is added to the heroin to make it stronger. Sean's was pure and meant to kill. Dealers will kill off customers in order to gain new customers from other dealers. This seems counter-productive, however, when someone dies it is perceived that the person was weak and the drug was stronger, therefore, people want the stronger drug. So if word on the street is five people just died from one dealer, the perception is he has the stronger stuff and it "only" killed five people. There are many theories as to why fentanyl is the newest choice to mix. No matter the reason, it's deadly and there is no way to tell how much if any has been mixed in with the heroin.
Q: What are you hoping listeners will learn from or get out of your presentation?
A: I'm hoping listeners will learn that addiction is an equal opportunity killer, it does not discriminate. That the face of heroin has changed and it is taking the lives of our youth. Football players, cheerleaders, farm kids you name it. I want to warn parents of warning signs, I want them to know now what I didn't know then in hopes that it saves lives. Prevention is the key, awareness is a must.
Q: What's something you think people believe they understand about these issues, but they often do not?
A: People still believe heroin users are dirty, low-life people that don't matter. They are wrong. Every life matters and the stigma surrounding this addiction is adding to the death toll. People become addicted to pain medication they took for valid reasons and often turn to heroin when the prescription can no longer be easily obtained. They think using prescription drugs is a safe thing, it is not.
Q: In your experience, is there any one thing that parents can do to best reduce the chance that their children will become ensnared by an opioid addiction? What about to support a child who is already battling an addiction?
A: The number one thing that any parent can do is not to fool themselves into thinking this cannot happen to their child, children, brother, sister, or spouse. Opiates are highly addictive and addiction does not discriminate by race, creed, gender or age.
Sports injuries are very dangerous. The majority of opiate addiction starts with prescription medications. Even when taken exactly as prescribed, this can lead to a huge problem.
Pay attention to friends and family of friends. Pay attention to gut instinct, if it doesn't seem right, it probably isn't. Don't be afraid to ask your child if you see warning signs. It's OK if they get mad, you're trying to save a life.
Always lock up your prescription medications. There is a perception that they are safe and it's not really "doing drugs" if those drugs are prescription.
Addiction to pain medication is expensive; heroin is cheap and readily available. Heroin will take away your child's pain if they are going through withdrawal from prescription opiates. They will not turn back.
Remember, you can do everything right as a parent. Part of being a teen is pushing boundaries and making mistakes. One bad decision to ingest an opiate could lead to an addiction. They may have made that first choice on their own but they need help to stop. They cannot get out of this alone. There is no such thing as "just stop." Once you're body is dependent the drug use is no longer to "get high," it is to feel normal, or not feel sick. Your loved one is in there, they need love and support to get out again. There is hope, people do recover, but it's a long, hard road. Call your school, call your health department, call us.
Remember, anyone actively using is fighting stigma from every angle. Their parents are ashamed therefore they are embarrassed to come forward to tell their parents they have a problem. Young people try to fix their problem on their own instead of being seen as an embarrassment to their family. As they try to control it, that is exactly when they lose control and the addiction takes over. These are our kids, be proud of them, let them share their weaknesses and let them trust us.
By the way, I have two wonderful surviving sons that lost their brother. All three will be Liberty High graduates, my youngest will graduate this June. My middle son wants to be a police officer. These kids, siblings get left in the dust far too often so I thought I'd mention them.
Q: Can you tell us about the Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates Carroll County Chapter and your work with them? When did you first become involved with them?
A: It's a statewide advocacy group that was started this year by mothers of active users and two of us that have lost children. We have chapters in over 10 counties right now, each has their own Facebook page where we share important information.
I started volunteering and raising awareness with a group of mothers shortly after Sean's death in hopes of saving another family from going through this. Sean and his girlfriend were the only two people I knew that used heroin when he came to me for help. I was ignorant and naive, I needed information and education and, unfortunately, I had to take a crash course in order to help save my son. I don't want parents to feel helpless because they have no information, that's what we provide. Prevention is the key. We offer help, hope and support without judgment.
Q: There have been a number of smaller vigils and informational meetings about the dangers of drugs in Carroll County in recent years and months, but nothing quite on the scale of this expo. Do you think that the fact that this event is coming together reflects a significant change in how people in Carroll County are thinking about this problem?
A: Yes, attitudes are changing slowly. More parents are coming forward and sharing how they lost their children or how they are now on recovery.