Opioid Addiction: A Deadly Dosage

Caitlyn Weems

This is the third in a series of in-depth reports from 10 On Your Side dealing with the opioid crisis. We will examine several aspects of this epidemic through the personal stories of people in Hampton Roads each Wednesday through May 24.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va.  (WAVY) – A Virginia Beach mother of five is warning other parents about how children can become addicted to opioids after she lost a daughter to heroin.

Carolyn Weems and her husband raised five kids, but only one became addicted to opioids. If she had to do it all over again, she'd take one more step with each and every one of them.

“We did the sex talk, we did the drug talk. We didn't have the prescription drug/heroin talk, and you've got to have that talk now.”

Weems wants to keep other parents from sharing her fate. Her daughter Caitlyn died four years ago. She started with prescription pain relievers -- first for back pain, then more for a soccer injury in high school and then she switched to heroin.

Not long after Caitlyn's death, Weems began speaking with addicts. She hosted several young adults in her home. They were about the same age as Caitlyn when she died, and she told them how she couldn't come to grips with her daughter's death.

“I told them, 'I can't get my head around that my daughter would stick a needle in her arm,'” Weems recalls.

Then, she heard their stories of addiction and it snapped her into the reality that is fueling the opioid crisis.

“A 19-year-old girl sat right here on the couch said, 'I could call and have heroin in your mailbox in 20 minutes. I could get it in any school -- Virginia Beach, Norfolk, anywhere. It's that easy.'”

Weems warns opioids will transform your child into someone you won't recognize.

“[Caitlyn] hated who she had become,” her mother says. “She knew she was letting herself down, she knew she was letting God down, she knew she was letting us down.”

To get the impact of that transformation, you need to know Caitlyn’s tortuous life path from popular athlete to addiction, recovery, childbirth, relapse and death.

By the time she reached 21, Caitlyn Weems had gone through enough for three lifetimes.

People called her popular, bright and athletic, but those closest to her noticed her slip into a darker reality.

“Caitlyn was addicted to pain killers,” Carolyn Weems said.

It started with back pain in the eighth grade.

“The orthopedist said she basically had the back of a 90-year-old. She had a completely squished, collapsed disc. They said she was probably born with it.”

The doctor prescribed Percocet.

“Percocet, Dilaudid, OxyContin are really heroin prescribed by a doctor,” Weems said. “They all come from the opium plant and they do the same thing.”

Two years later, while playing soccer at Bayside, Caitlyn went up to head a ball and damaged her teeth. A dentist prescribed more addictive pain killers. Her mother says Caitlyn had met people who could give her more pills. She would also steal them -- once from her own brother who got hurt playing baseball.

“And that's when we knew that it was quite serious.”

Despite the addiction, Caitlyn earned a soccer scholarship to a Pennsylvania college. But after 12 days on campus, she met a young man and moved to Georgia.

“And then she got pregnant.”

Her family welcomed her home to have the baby, but only if she stayed clean.

“If you do any pills during this pregnancy, Social Services and I will be at the birth of your child,” Carolyn Weems recalls telling her daughter.

Caitlyn got clean, and in April 2011, gave birth to a healthy daughter, Brylan. Carolyn was a proud and happy grandmother.

“I call her my earth angel. She's the spitting image of Caitlyn.”

Caitlyn stayed clean for 14 months. Her family was getting a sense of relief, but the addiction was too powerful.

“She had a relapse when her daughter was a few months old.”

One of her friends had suggested she try heroin.

“She called me soon after and said, 'I'm in trouble. I tried heroin and I'm in trouble.'”

Carolyn says Caitlyn had always showed a desire to recover, even after she started doing heroin. She agreed to enter a sober living house with four other women.

“I was so hopeful. For the first time in a long time, I’m thinking, 'She's gonna make it, I can sleep.'”

But that hope turned to tragedy one spring night when Caitlyn locked herself in the bathroom at the facility, injected heroin and overdosed.

Caitlyn's mother is certain that her daughter's struggle with addiction began all those years ago, with a trip to the doctor's office. Her mother is now an advocate for parents, letting them know what to expect if their child becomes addicted, and even how to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Carolyn Weems says addicts become liars.

“If you have an addict living in your house, they are lying almost 100 percent of the time that their mouth is open.”

Weems experienced the stigma that surrounds addiction, and how it can be a road block to getting help. When she tells people about the first half of Caitlyn's story -- when she was using prescription pills -- people are sympathetic. That changes when they hear about Caitlyn's transition to heroin.

“Once you cross that and say she went to heroin -- it's all of a sudden, 'Oh my gosh, what kind of parents were y'all? What kind of person was she?'”

Carolyn says parents can never ask too many questions when a doctor calls for any addictive drug. If your child does get hooked on opioids, prepare for a whiplash of highs and lows and for an impact you can never predict.

“The beast of heroin is, it will kill you the first time you use it, or the 10th time, or the 10th year. It's like playing Russian roulette, and that's the thing I had no understanding of.”

Weems is active with the Heroin Working Group of Hampton Roads, an effort to promote awareness, education and prevention spearheaded by Attorney General Mark Herring. She doesn’t shy away from telling Caitlyn’s story in an effort to help others.

“I'm gonna talk about this. Caitlyn would have wanted me to. My daughter was not a bad person trying to get good. She was a sick person trying to get well.”

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