Victory over heroin: daughter credits mom with saving her life


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Mother-daughter teamwork saved Katie, now 26, from a life-threatening heroin addiction. Katie, who lives out of state, and her mom, Sue Van Camp of Davenport, agreed to share their story to give hope to other families impacted by heroin addiction.  Katie said she has been sober for five years and never relapsed.

heroin-katie-family-colorMore than 10,000 people died from using heroin in 2014 in the United States, an epidemic that is now getting attention at the local, state and national level. Locally, the bi-state Center for Alcohol & Drug Services, Inc., (CADS) saw an 85 percent increase in clients diagnosed with opiate-related substance abuse disorder in a comparison between fiscal year 2013 and 2016 statistics.

But a greater number of people are in recovery, living perfectly normal lives, than the number of people who die from overdosing, said Dr. Joseph P. Cowley, president and CEO of CADS. Hope is a critically important piece that needs to be conveyed as the public becomes more aware of the heroin crisis. “People are willing to help,” he said. “All they need to do is come and ask for help.”


Katie’s story

Many people diagnosed with opiate-related substance abuse disorder start or supplement the disorder with opiates, but switch to heroin because heroin is cheaper and easier to acquire, observed Heather Olson, CADS’ vice president, COO.

That’s the route that Katie took. Her family couldn’t have imagined she would use heroin. She be­longs to a family with deep Catholic roots and atten­ded Catholic school in Dav­enport before her family moved out of state. She was a bright student who played soccer, her mom said.

Katie started experimenting with opiate pills at the encouragement of friends. “Some of them were able to stop and some were not. I was one of them,” Katie said. She graduated early from high school and moved away with her boyfriend. The couple returned home to Wisconsin about a year later, needing a place to stay. Sue agreed to take Katie and her boyfriend into the Van Camp home as a way to keep an eye on Katie. Ben, Katie’s brother, lived nearby.

Brother and sister grew closer. “Drugs were a common ground,” I suppose,” Katie said with sadness. Ben died of a heroin overdose at age 27 in 2014. “I had horrible survivor’s guilt about it,” Katie continued. “He was such a great guy.”

A year after Katie and her boyfriend moved into the Van Camp home, Sue told the troubled young man to leave. She told him, “I need to save my daughter.”
One night not long afterwards, Katie arrived home high. “That was the night I told her she couldn’t stay there anymore,” Sue said, choking up. “I am not an advocate for tough love, but I made her spend the night at a shelter and she was very upset with that. But I think she made up her mind … I was her best shot at surviving.”
Katie returned home the next day. Sue called the county crisis center and said she needed to bring her daughter in. It was urgent. “The next day she started outpatient treatment.”

Katie and her mom became inseparable. “She was my sidekick 24-7,” said Sue who works on the road as a claims adjustor for an insurance company. Six days a week, Sue made the 90-mile round trip to a methadone clinic with Katie. Methadone alleviates withdrawal symptoms and physical dependence on heroin. They also traveled together to Katie’s counseling appointments. Sue scheduled all of her work appointments around her daughter’s treatment.

“I was at my mom’s side for eight months straight. If she went to a claim, I was sitting in the car. If she went out to dinner,” I went out to dinner,” Katie recalled. “This is what we needed to do if we were going to whip this,” Sue said. “Katie knew she had a lot of work to do. At 20 years old, the last thing you want to do is spend the year with your mother.”

During part of that time, Sue was also chauffeuring Ben to his job while he was on work release from jail. He had no transportation and his dad Scott, Sue’s husband of 34 years, was dealing with health issues. “You do what you do for your kids,” Sue, a mother of four, says simply. “That’s a mother’s unconditional love.”

Katie was no shirker. “I was doing all the actions to get my life back on track,” she said. “I had no phone for almost a year and I went back to college, stopped talking to anyone and everyone associated with that stuff – except my brother. Mom was my number one support. She saved my life; there is no other way to put it. I would probably not be here without her.”

Today, Katie works as a senior sales consultant for a telecommunications firm. She and her fiancé are raising their 7-month-old son and they participate in their Catholic parish. Katie takes an opiate blocker to help alleviate drug cravings, but hopes to be off that medication soon.

“I thank God every day that she’s alive,” Sue says. But Sue struggles with not having been able to save Ben’s life. That’s why she got involved in Quad Cities Harm Reduction. The grassroots organization successfully lobbied for passage of an Iowa law this year that expands the use of a medication which reverses heroin and prescription opiate overdoses.

Sue also stresses the importance of taking that next step, getting treatment, like Katie did. “You can recover and live a normal life. It’s a long road and there’s a lot of work. A person needs to be committed to it.”

(Next week: A heroin addict in treatment.)

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