Lacey Weitz died in March after overdosing on fentanyl at her workplace in California. She was only 26 years old. She is remembered as a kind, generous young woman who loved her family, friends and animals. Even in death, Lacey saved three lives as an organ donor.
For Lacey’s mother, Michelle Tyler Weitz and her husband Bob, it was the painful end of an eight-year battle to save their daughter from drugs. Like many other grieving parents who lost children to the current opioid addiction epidemic, they have a hard time understanding what really happened to their daughter.
Lacey graduated from Oak Park High School in 2008, in an affluent community north of Los Angeles. Everything seemed fine but shortly before Christmas that year, she was suddenly picked up by the police for possession of Oxycontin, recalls her mother.
Everything changed for Michelle Tyler and her family after that. Lacey had to go to court but got away with a misdemeanor conviction. She was ordered to attend drug counseling. “It was the worst thing for her,” Michelle told me. “All it achieved was Lacey making a lot of new drug connections there.”
After that the hits kept on coming: Lacey failed a drug test and her parents sent her to rehab. She was subsequently kicked out the treatment center for dealing and her mother started to encounter problems all too familiar to the loved ones of people in active addiction. Lacey would lie about her drug use and steal money from her parents.
Although the Weitz family had quality health insurance, only 28 days of residential rehab were covered. Many addiction professionals think that is not long enough. Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Research indicates that most addicted individuals need at least 3 months in treatment to significantly reduce or stop their drug use and that the best outcomes occur with longer durations of treatment.”
Michelle believes that many rehab programs are “too cookie cutter” and fail to address individual needs. “They are preaching the same things over and over, Lacey was just bored and didn’t listen to any of it,” Michelle told me.
Lacey was apparently never tested for co-occurring conditions although her mother is certain that she had anxiety issues, suffered from an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and displayed low self-esteem. Lacey went to rehab after rehab—a total of 28 times—but seemed unable to commit herself fully to her recovery. The disease of addiction was too strong, Lacey once told her mother “I can’t turn it off.”
At the same time, the young woman seemed very aware of what the substance use was doing to her. She was a gifted artist who had been praised for her creativity since kindergarten. Michelle found many of Lacey’s drawings and sketches only after she had died. They illustrate with shocking and dramatic clarity the nightmare that is addiction.
(Lacey Weitz artwork courtesy of Weitz family)
Despite her intuitive understanding of the torments caused by addiction, Lacey never arrived at the point where the pain of continuing with the harmful drug use was worse for her that the hard work of recovery. When the opioid painkillers became too expensive and too difficult to obtain, she switched to heroin.
About a year before Lacey passed, Michelle started to seek solace and encouragement from a group called The Addict’s Mom which tries to help “create personal change and healing among the broken spirits of the addict’s moms.”
The group’s motto is “sharing without shame” and it connects mothers with addicted children directly with each other, mostly in Facebook groups.
The Addict’s Mom (TAM) started in 2008 as a Facebook page of Florida mom Barbara Theodosiou after she found out that two of her sons were drug addicts. After the initial shock, she realized she was by no means the only mother suffering.
“I knew there had to be other mothers who were going through the same emotional pain that I was. I wanted to create a place for mothers of addicts to have the freedom to share our pain without feeling the shame that often comes with having a child who is an addict,” she writes on the TAM website.
Michelle Tyler quickly learned to appreciate the stories of hope and successful recovery and then found a lot of support and compassion when Lacey died.
Her tragic death and many rehab attempts illustrate the critical importance of a careful assessment of all behavioral health and substance use issues for successful addiction treatment. At Decision Point Center all new clients receive an extensive psychiatric, medical, nutritional, psychological and psychosocial development assessment conducted by licensed therapists and physicians.
Only a thorough assessment process can allow a treatment center to establish a good understanding of the patient's condition, needs, past treatment experiences, physical health, psychological state, family history and more. Following the assessment, Decision Point offers 45 and 90-day residential programs which are long and intensive enough to increase the chance of successful recovery.
Addiction is a chronic disease, not a choice. Treatment needs to address individual needs and offer a variety of therapies so people undergoing recovery are actually empowered to “turn it off.”
(Lacey Weitz's artwork used courtesy of the Weitz family)