A View From A Mom and First Responder – July 2021

A View From A Mom and First Responder

We lost our daughter Brittany on December 28, 2018. Addiction had seeped into every part of our lives and home, and now loss and grief seem to be everywhere.

I think there were signs early on in Brittany’s addiction journey. We just didn’t recognize them for what they were at the time. She had a boyfriend in Cecil County and spent a lot of her time with him and his family. They seemed nice. Britt would tell us how they went bike riding or fishing. After a while, she was really nasty any time she was home, not wanting to spend time with us and always in a hurry to go back to her boyfriend’s house. I remember wondering what was so great about his family that she preferred being with them.  The furthest thing from my mind was that Brittany was using drugs.

Once the disease of addiction reared its ugly head in our home, I learned as much as I could about it. My knowledge came from my daughter, the classes for loved ones created by rehab facilities, and the patients and families I interacted with at work. I also joined several Facebook groups for support. I wanted to understand the disease and how it affected everyone it touched. I also was scared for my daughter. I was in a constant state of anxiety in my own home.

After we learned of Brittany’s addiction, so many things suddenly made sense. There were signs, just not the obvious ones I was familiar with like razor blades, straws, needles, track marks and burnt spoons or glass pipes. Why did Britt have a hose clamp in her purse? Why were there pens in pieces with the clip part broken in her room? What on earth was she doing with empty cigarette packs or opened tampons that were taken apart? Why was her room such a filthy mess? What on earth was she doing with a can of wasp spray in her purse/bag?

You see, heroin addiction doesn’t just start with injecting drugs. It often starts with experimenting with prescription pills obtained from someone’s medicine cabinet. Empty cigarette packs can hide the drug since most people wouldn’t open and look inside. In our home, substance abuse was hiding in plain sight for probably two years. It wasn’t until the federal crackdown on opiates that Brittany switched to heroin. Pills got harder to obtain and even harder to abuse because of increased safety/anti-abuse measures used.

We heard so much advice, many opinions, and talk of rock bottom and tough love. My advice is to do what you can live with. We tried throwing her out. That was worse than having her in our home. Not knowing if she was safe, sheltered, or hungry was tearing me to pieces. I was afraid that rock bottom would be her death. I couldn’t bear not knowing if she was alive or not so we let her come home time and again. We did what we could live with.

My career was in the fire service for 34 years. I was a paramedic, then an EMS Lieutenant (supervisor) and would share stories about my day with our family. The kids grew up hearing cautionary tales about drinking and driving, drug use, and bad decisions. They heard some funny stories, some heartbreaking ones, and some really scary ones. They both came on a ride-along. We spoke often about the risks and health issues of drinking and drugs. I was quite honest with them about family history contributing to the risk of addiction, hoping they would continue to make good decisions and talk with us if any situations arise. I hoped that I would know if they were experimenting. I knew what being drunk and being high looked like. I knew the smell associated with alcohol and pot. I knew about drug paraphernalia. I thought, “I’d see any evidence, right?” Back then, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about substance abuse. 

I responded to 911 calls in a medic unit, provided treatment, and transported patients to the hospital. I handled a large variety of calls, ranging from helping someone up off the floor, to broken bones and trauma, to medical emergencies such as heart attack or stroke, and everything in between. Overdose calls were scattered in there, but during my time on a medic unit they weren’t encountered daily. I was promoted to a supervisory position in 2010 and began to see a huge increase in overdose calls.

As a supervisor, I also responded to the most serious and higher acuity calls with several different medics in a larger area such as calls for an unconscious person, cardiac arrest, childbirth, drownings, motor vehicle crashes involving motorcycles or entrapment/rescue. My role on these calls was to assist with advanced level care such as respiratory care, administering medications such as naloxone, helping with cardiac interventions like pacing or shocking the heart, coordinating scene activities, interacting with family members/bystanders, and ensuring an overall high quality of care and service. I spent a lot of time with distraught, angry, overwhelmed, and grieving family members. I did my best to provide compassion, information, resources, or sometimes just a listening ear.

At work, I was able to help an overdose victim. I could respond, give naloxone, perform rescue breathing, and administer oxygen. I could help a stranger at work, but was helpless at home without naloxone. Thankfully, that changed! My husband Chip and I took the required training and now had this life-saving drug available at home. Since then, I carry naloxone with me everywhere. I began assisting with naloxone training by showing people how to assemble and administer the medication, how to do rescue breathing, and how to do hands-only CPR. With my career in EMS and my own family experience, I shared without shame and was able to help others.  I developed and presented training for my fellow supervisors, arming them with understanding and compassionate ways to interact with their patients and families. In collaboration with behavioral health partners at work, I developed a resource and information packet so supervisors could give this information to family members and overdose patients. I also talked with students in paramedic class. I wanted to humanize addiction and give practical advice on how to better assess and care for the people they would meet in their careers.

A couple of years ago, a group of parents met in Annapolis, Maryland to talk with our elected state officials about important bills in the legislative process relating to substance abuse, treatment, and resources needed to reach more people needing help. That is where I met Wendy, Founder and Executive Director of Rage Against Addiction. Our daughters were the same age and had the same struggles. Little did we know then that we would both end up losing our daughters to drug overdoses. Wendy and RAA are making such an impact, especially for women, by establishing two recovery homes, and providing resources for children and families affected by addiction.

Brittany often said how proud of me she was for speaking to and teaching others about substance abuse. She was pleased that I was stressing kindness and compassion. She said, “Mom, I’m so glad you are doing this, so many people treat us like shit. You might be the only one nice to them that day.” I always made sure Britt knew that we loved her and would help her any time she was ready. She went to rehab at least eight or nine times with varying degrees of success. Each relapse or recurrence of her disease was heartbreaking. We spoke very honestly about her struggles. She never wanted to be a number on a sign.  She wanted to be a lot of things, but addicted to drugs was never on her list of dreams. She was a sister, a wife, a friend to many, and our little girl. We will remember her wet messy baby kisses, her big warm hugs, her silly side, her bubbly laughter, her love of children, her love of make-up and nail polish, and her strength in her struggles, and her desire and longing for a full, happy life.  

Written by: Tracey Marvel (Bel Air, MD)

A note from Wendy image

In my experience, law enforcement and healthcare professionals can and do become immune to the sensitivities of addiction:  overdose calls, pill shopping, outstanding warrants, drug related crime, and repeat. It’s all in a day’s work.  But on the flip side of “all in a day’s work” is the aftermath the family must contend with and it is a tidal wave of emotions, heart break, and grief. 

It isn’t until the two worlds collide, and then compassion meets reality and perspectives begin to shift. 

“I never really understood the impact addiction has on the family until I saw the impact it had on my family,” said a retired Baltimore Police Department Sargent. “When you shift your perspective, suddenly the life you’re living changes.”

XOXO Wendy

Facebook Fundraiser Creator

My son, Tyler died on 4/25/16 from an accidental overdose. He was 24, just 2 months shy of 25.  Tyler was an Eagle Scout, Altar server, involved with his community, a college graduate and a secret addict. He loved sports, and his family.  Tyler experimented with weed when in HS and I suspect probably some underage drinking.  Things turned following a car accident in 2011. The drs office sent him back to college with oxycodone and muscle relaxers and told him to start PT.  That never happened as he had a full load of school work, was involved with his fraternity and had a girlfriend and the therapy office was a half hour away. Things started spiraling after college graduation in 2013.  He got a full time job out of state but started having difficulties at work. We began to notice changes in Tyler’s personality. He always denied having a problem. We asked numerous times. Tyler never admitted to us that he had a problem. We tried so hard to get him into treatment.  We went through all the hell that every family has in the same situation.  You read the stories and you can pretty much just change the names. I know we did all we could have based on the information we had but of course will always kick myself that we could not save our kid and that we did not do enough. 

Written by: Laura Jones (Hilton Head, SC)

Community Resources

Addiction Connections Resource: A non-profit organization that assists with providing resources and support for addiction treatment and that educates the community about substance abuse disorder. Located in Fallston, MD. Please visit here or call 443-417-7810 for more information. 

Ashley Addiction Treatment: An inpatient treatment center that personalizes clinical programs based on individual need. Located in Havre De Grace, MD. Please visit here or call 800-799-4673 for information about online and in-person meeting services.

Celebrate Recovery: A local support group for those with addictive behaviors. Located in Bel Air, MD and Joppa, MD. ​

  • 5:45pm every Thursday at Mt. Zion Church – 1643 Churchville Road, Bel Air, MD 21015. Contact lheitmuller@zoominternet.net or visit here for more information about meetings.
  • Mountain Christian Church in Joppa, MD: Please register here to join. *Please check out the updated information regarding meeting details.*

GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing): A local support group for those who have lost someone to addiction. 

  • 7:00pm on the 2nd Wednesday of each month. 
  • Located in the Education Building at Mt. Zion Church – 1643 Churchville Road, Bel Air, MD 21015
  • Contact lisa.craig4@verizon.net for more information.
  • The private national Facebook group is available. Please visit here to ask to join.

The Klein Family Harford Crisis Center: A clinic that provides immediate care for mental health and addiction. Located in Bel Air, MD. Please visit here or call 410-874-0711 for information about online and in-person meeting services.

Loving An Addict: A local support group for family and friends of those in active addiction.  

  • 7:00pm every Saturday. 
  • Located in the Education Building at Mt. Zion Church – 1643 Churchville Road, Bel Air, MD 21015
  • Contact lisa.craig4@verizon.net for more information.

​​​​​We serve locally but think globally. For counseling, or for addiction, substance abuse disorder, or mental illness treatment, please contact your area’s health department, county government, hospital, or law enforcement agency.

Rage Against Addiction Programs

Daughter’s House: Designed to assist women who are transitioning from substance abuse treatment to recovery; includes two sober living houses (Daughter’s House and Sister House) located in the suburbs of Harford County, MD.  Click here to visit the Facebook page.

HALO (How to Live Without Our Addicted Loved One): An online grief support group specifically for those that lost loved ones to substance abuse. Click here to ask to join the private Facebook page. *Please read and answer the membership questions prior to joining.

RAA ABC (After Baby Care): Provides post-partum care packages to new mothers in early recovery. 

Rage Club: Designed specifically for children affected by addiction to help them process their feelings and learn about the disease by offering counselor-led activities, such as equine and art therapy, nature walks, and more. The group meets several times a year. Click here for more information.

Rage Against Addiction Team Members

Wendy Beck Messner Founder and Executive Director

Amanda Buddenbohn RAA’S ABC (After Baby Care) Coordinator

Tara Kuzma Chairman of the Board of Directors

Rachel Bongiorno Recovery Coach and Daughter’s House Program Director

Mia Ellis Newsletter Writer and Administrator

Sarah Hoover Rage Club Event Coordinator and Volunteer

Michael Nesline Rage Club Mascot