2020 Scholarship Winner: One Student’s Loss of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Parents and Motivation to Help Families Struggling with Substance Use Disorder
Below you will find the compelling biography and essay of the Recovery Centers of America (RCA) and Mothers Against Perscription Drug Abuse (MAPDA) Hope for Addiction Scholarship winner Alexandra (Lexi) T. As a scholarship winner, Lexi will receive $1000 to be used to further her education.
My name is Alexandra (Lexi) Tulowiecki. I am 21 years old, and I am from Liverpool, New York. I am currently a senior triple major student studying social work, psychology, and forensic science. I love country music, reading, and spending time with my family and friends. My goal is to become a licensed clinical social worker to work with individuals impacted by trauma. I would like to note that both of my parents have passed away due to substance abuse. My mom passed away at age 50 in 2014 from a heroin/fentanyl overdose when I was only 16 years old. Only a few years later in 2018, my dad died at age 53 from cirrhosis of the liver due to a lifelong battle against alcoholism. Becoming a social worker is my way of honoring them.
10 days before Christmas in 2015, my mother took her last breath. My beautiful, young mother passed away from a heroin overdose. She was only 50 years old. She struggled with addiction for almost five years before it took her life. Her addiction began when her doctor prescribed her Xanax for her diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. When she would run out of Xanax, she turned to heroin because it is much more affordable. Unfortunately, her heroin had been laced with Fentanyl, causing her death.
At only 16-years-old, I was left motherless. The past five years I have felt lost, empty, and confused without my mother. I find myself questioning what I could’ve done to save her. Should I have convinced her to go to rehab? Should I have called the cops when drug dealers came to our house? Should I have called 911 every time she passed out at the kitchen table during dinner? I can ask myself hundreds of questions, but one thing will never change: she’s gone, and she’s not coming back.
Syracuse, New York has had a massive heroin problem over the past five years. In 2018, Onondaga County’s opioid overdose death rates increased 11 percent. Although the total number of deaths have decreased since its peak at 142 in 2016, it is still taken close to one hundred lives a year, and this is strictly just within Onondaga County. Across the country, approximately 64,000 people overdosed in 2016. Both local and federal governments need to allocate more funds for treating opioid addiction. Currently, there are few successful and affordable treatment centers for individuals with opioid addiction. Individuals are forced to travel out of state to find treatment, and sometimes they don’t make it in time before overdosing. From my experience and research, a major problem within this epidemic is the unavailability of treatment beds. There are individuals willing to go through withdrawal and detoxification to become sober, but there is no room for them.
As I get closer to becoming a social worker, I’m beginning to think about what I can do to save lives. Personally, I feel that advocating for individuals with addiction and educating the public is the first step. The stigma surrounding addiction keeps individuals from reaching out to others and getting help. Addiction is a disease, not a choice, and most people do not realize this. We must work together to educate our communities about addiction and what it does to the brain. Many people blame the individual, but what most people don’t know is that many opioid addictions begin from normal prescriptions. It is important to share the stories of those we’ve lost to help others find the strength to move on.
The government should also fund more prevention programs. Preventing future generations of opioid users will lead to an overall decrease in the number of users. Prevention doesn’t just refer to advertisements and commercials about the effects of heroin use. Prevention includes changes in legislation to fix the current over prescription of opioids. 75% of heroin users in treatment began using heroin with painkillers. The federal government should lower the initial opioid prescription to three days, instead of the current thirty days. Some states have reduced opioid prescriptions to three days, and I propose that this should be enacted nationally due to the epidemic we are currently facing. I also recommend that doctors be educated on alternatives to opioids. I believe it is also necessary to increase the education of police officers and other first responders. I say this from first-hand experience with police officers. Before my mother passed away in 2014, I was well aware that she was using. Multiple times throughout her addiction I reached out to my local police department for help, but each time they refused to help me and let my mom continue using. Police officers should be trained in situations such as mine to provide helpful resources for the family to find treatment options to individuals struggling with addiction. As a thirteen-year-old, I didn’t have power to get my mom the help she needed. All I knew was that if I called 911, they were supposed to help me. They failed.
The topic of the heroin epidemic is something I am extremely passionate about, but I am also emotionally triggered every time it is brought up. The feelings of grief, abandonment, anger, and many other difficult feelings come up for me. However, I advocate in every way I can because I want to save others. I don’t want other children to be motherless this young. I don’t want to go on Facebook and read yet another post of someone I know passing away from a heroin overdose. It’s not going to be easy, but it is going to be worth it. Every human life is worth living. We just need to give them the opportunities to break free from their addiction.
After graduating with my undergraduate degree this May, I will begin the Master of Social Work Advanced standing program in July at Syracuse University. The number of people impacted by addiction is staggering. Almost everyone I know has lost someone to the opioid epidemic. To help these individuals and families, I am also going to obtain a certificate of advanced study in trauma-informed practice so that I am equipped to work with these individuals.