Anne LeVeque's sister, Elisa, died from an overdose of carfentanil in 2016. "Unless each and every one of us talks about how this opioid crisis affects us all, openly and honestly, we are never going to conquer this evil."
Sibling death is so much harder than your parents, particularly if you’re middle-aged, your parents are elderly, they have a condition or disease, whatever, you know, you’re prepared for it. It’s in the natural order of things.
Having your younger sister die, isn’t.
It was August 1st, 2016. Got up, eight in the morning and found a text message, from an unknown number. It said, “Elisa is dead. Sorry.” I’m looking at this and there is this sense of unreality. Elisa is my younger sister, younger by four years. And so I called my niece, her daughter, who was sobbing.
My sister, Elisa, lived in Ohio at the time, near Akron. And it turned out that the text was from her boyfriend, Elisa’s boyfriend. And that she had died of a dose of carfentanil. My understanding is that its only use is in zoos, for very large animals, elephants. It’s a tranquilizer. There is no safe human dose.
The drug trade, the street drug trade, has changed considerably over the past couple of decades. Apparently it gives a dealer a great degree of street cred if some of their customers die, because it indicates that their product is so strong, it’s so powerful, you will get a high unlike any other. There is this element of risk. I can’t really, and probably ought not speak to any of the science of it, because I’m not a scientist. But that people who are prone to addiction also have the risk-taking gene. And so they want the bigger high, the better high. If this dealer’s customers, if some of them have died as a result, it indicates that his product is very strong. So it’s basically advertising.
I immediately got in the car and drove to Ohio to help my niece, who was 25 at the time. She was an adult, living somewhere else.
We had thought Elisa had been clean for a while. After our mother’s death the previous year, she had gone into rehab, again, and then had a bumpy time in the halfway house and was kicked out of there. And so her options were incredibly limited. She had lived in Ohio previously. She moved back to Ohio. She told me she was living with a friend. And she referred to it as a house. I later found out it was a small trailer and it was just so full of trash and junk and cigarette smoke and garbage. Everything. It was just horrifying. And you wonder how does this – how does this happen?
She had estranged herself from everyone else in our family through her abuse of our relationships, including probably the worst thing she did was when my mother was moved into hospice, she went and drained my mother’s bank account. You know, I mean that’s that’s pretty horrifying to do. What’s doing this is the disease. It’s the addiction. It’s not who she is, deep down. That’s a really hard thing to internalize and there’s lot of anger, disappointment – all those things.
After my sister’s death, we had a gathering and it was mostly her daughter’s friends but also her friends, at an Episcopal church in Akron. And the woman that she shared the trailer with attended – Beth. Beth talked about being the daughter of a rabbi -- and our dad was an Episcopal priest -- and how they would talk about being “PK’s” which is -- PK is preacher’s kids. And I, I thought to myself, I was just floored. I thought, how, how is it that the daughter of a rabbi, the daughter of an Episcopal priest end up in this God-awful junky trailer, using the worst drugs imaginable in this existence that is not anything you or I could ever imagine, you know, in our worst nightmares.
Dealing with the fact that it was the drug overdose, it was addiction, we’ve really tried to be -- at least I’ll say, I have tried to be --as open as possible about that because I feel strongly that the more people keep things like that a secret, the less we’ll be able to really deal with it as a society. If lots of us can say, “This happened to me. This happened to my family, and we need to deal with this,” within the family, within our society, within the medical and pharmaceutical industry -- we need to deal with this globally too.
It affects everybody. No exceptions. You know, there are no exceptions for, you know, if your dad’s a doctor or your mom is a lawyer or whatever, it’s not going to make any distinction. It’s, it’s insidious.
I’m Anne LeVeque and this is my story.