By Dr. Susan Weinstein as told to Mandy Stanage Shoptaw | Photography by Lori Sparkman Photography
People tell me I’m strong. I’m not. I’m actually really private about my grief, but I choose to speak up for Meredith. That’s how I find the courage to talk about the illness that took her away from us. Meredith Baskin died August 8, 2018, at the age of 34 of a Fentanyl overdose.
Her brothers began writing the obituary soon after we found out she was gone, but when I read it, it didn’t include all the details, and I said no. We need to tell her story – not just about her life – but also her death. Her story, through the obituary, has been shared across social media widely in an effort to raise awareness about the opioid epidemic.
I’m here to tell you, drugs don’t care what you look like. Drugs don’t care what your income is. Addiction can affect anyone. It has nothing to do with color, race, income, intelligence. Once, when visiting Meredith at a rehab facility, I made a remark I now regret. I stereotyped one of the recovering addicts who, I felt, “looked the part.” Meredith gently reminded me that he was just like her and she was right.
Meredith could have been your friend, sister, daughter, co-worker. She grew up in our quiet Little Rock neighborhood and attended local public schools. She was independent, a bit of a challenge, but a fun child with lots of friends and a great sense of humor. She was smart and became a nurse because she loved helping people. In so many ways, Meredith’s life is just like thousands of other Arkansans who find themselves battling addiction.
My daughter was introduced to opioid painkillers after injuring her back in a sledding accident. As a nurse, Meredith was aware pretty early on that she was becoming addicted. When she finally told me I did everything in my power to get her help. I stayed with Meredith through withdrawals, sought out therapists and got her into rehab programs including one in Los Angeles at a long-term facility. Meredith successfully completed the program and was living independently but still getting outpatient counseling when she relapsed.
Anyone who has lost someone to Substance Abuse Disease, or SAD, always goes through a lot of “what ifs.” With Meredith, there had been so many breakthroughs, she was doing so well and in the days before she died people noticed something was wrong. Her therapist said she showed up disheveled and unbathed. Others noticed changes in her too. Why didn’t they say anything? Why didn’t anyone stay with her? I had called Meredith in Los Angeles, but got a text back that she couldn’t talk and would call later. My daughter never called me back. Instead, I got a call in the middle of the night from a coroner across the country telling me my child was gone.
I can’t stress this enough. If someone you know is struggling with addiction – the cravings do not go away. Meredith would tell me this every time she got sober, “Momma, I want to live clean like this , but I still crave it.” That’s why it’s important to check on addicts face-to-face. If you think they are using, ask them point-blank and offer to get them help. Friends and family need to celebrate the recovery milestones and it’s important for the addict to know that someone loves them no matter what. In fact, I used to tell Meredith all the time that I loved her but didn’t like what she was doing, but you can’t get rid of me.
I don’t want to see another person go through this. And I know inside of me that Meredith wanted to help people. So this is my way of honoring her.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. The last Facebook entry Meredith posted was about International Overdose Awareness Day 2018. If you suspect someone of using drugs, contact the National Helpline for Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration who can put you in contact with agencies in your area that may be able to help. If you have prescription drugs in your home consider dropping them off at an approved Arkansas Take Back location at artakeback.org or 501-618-8175.
Drug Take Back / https://www.artakeback.org/take-back/collection-sites/
Dose of Reality / https://doseofreality.adh.arkansas.gov/