- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) - No one would have expected to hear the news that 27-year-old Megan Elise McPhail had died from a heroin overdose.

She was the all-American girl, an athlete, a competitive cheerleader and a swimmer in high school.

She was a beautiful, funny, determined young woman who worked two jobs and was taking biology and chemistry classes at East Carolina University with the hope one day of entering the medical field.

Her mother, Letti Micheletto, is the vice principal at J.H. Rose High School, and Megan was close to her family, who loved and supported her.

But a little after midnight on Aug. 9, 2014, a sheriff’s deputy rang the door bell at Micheletto’s home to tell her that her daughter was in the morgue. She had died from a heroin overdose.

Micheletto spoke during a recent meeting of Pitt County Coalition on Substance Abuse of her daughter’s life and death. She hopes that someone will learn about the dangers of prescription opioids and heroin and possibly avoid taking the first steps that lead down the path to a full-blown heroin addiction.

Micheletto first noticed her daughter wasn’t her usual self after she started taking classes at ECU. She had met a boy, and they had an on-and-off-again relationship.

Micheletto doesn’t blame the boyfriend and said her daughter made her own choices, but she suspects he’s the one who first introduced her to prescription opioids.

“When I talk to kids today, many have the misconception that they are safe because they come from pharmaceutical companies, and that makes them safe,” Micheletto said.

Prescribed opiates include hydrocodone, oxycodone, morphine and fentanyl, among others, and people can become addicted to them without even knowing it, she said.

When it became difficult for Megan to find or buy the pills on the street, her daughter turned to heroin because it was cheaper and easier to buy. At first she snorted it but soon began shooting it.

Megan was a functioning addict and kept her secret well hidden.

“I think she hid it from me for a long time,” Micheletto said. “I thought the problem at school was the boy. They would break up and get back together.”

She noticed a change in her daughter as time passed. They had always been close and her daughter told her everything, but she began noticing that Megan was pulling away. Maybe she was just maturing and becoming more independent, her mother thought.

Eventually, however, Megan asked to move back home, and, although she had two jobs, she always seemed to need money. One of the strangest signs something was wrong was that the spoons in the house kept disappearing.

Micheletto had remarried, and her husband liked to eat yogurt every night before he went to bed. She accused him of tossing the spoons in the trash after he ate the yogurt.

But Megan was taking the spoons to cook her heroin and turn it into liquid form so she could inject it directly into her veins.

Micheletto’s older son, Dustin, also had somehow gotten into using heroin, but he and his sister didn’t come by it the same way or with the same group of people. He got into by smoking marijuana, but he has been clean for about three years now.

He recognized what was going on with Megan and told his mother about it, but she just couldn’t believe it.

“I said, ‘Oh no, not Megan,’” Micheletto said.

Micheletto knew about underage drinking and marijuana, but nobody had ever told her taking a prescribed painkiller could lead to a heroin addition.

Then one day Megan said she wanted to talk.

“In January of 2014, she said, ‘I have something I need to tell you,’” Micheletto said. “I thought, ‘Oh, God. She’s going to tell me she’s pregnant.’ She said, ‘I’m addicted to heroin.’”

“I said, ‘People don’t do heroin. That’s back in the ‘60s. How in the world can you possibly get addicted to heroin? It’s not even around anymore.’”

Megan agreed to go for a 30-day treatment program at Walter B. Jones Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center.

“When she left that treatment facility, her craving and addiction was stronger than before,” Micheletto said. “It was like a wildfire was lit.”

Megan went right back to using heroin, but she no longer kept it a secret. She sometimes called her mother, yelling and screaming, begging for money to buy heroin because she was so sick.

Her mother walked a tightrope. How could she support her daughter without supporting her habit?

She didn’t give her daughter any money, but she did tell her she was welcome to eat or sleep at home. She asked herself if she was enabling her daughter, if providing food allowed Megan spend her own money on drugs.

But, like any mother, she wasn’t going to stand by and watch her daughter go without food or sleep on the street.

“You have to love the sinner and hate the sin,” she said. “In this case, you have to love the addict and hate the addiction.”

The family watched as Megan spiraled downward.

“It was scary,” Micheletto said. “It was heartbreaking to watch it. I thought if anybody can kick this, it would be Megan.”

Megan agreed to try treatment again, and they sent her to a 30-day program in Wilmington at the end of June 2014. Megan helped select the program and picked the hardest one, thinking that’s what she needed to kick the addiction.

After she completed the 30-day program, she drove back to Greenville for a day to visit her mother, father and brother. She hugged her dog and proudly talked with her family about her recovery.

“She looked great,” Micheletto said.

What no one knew, however, was that Megan also visited one of her former dealers, and she bought heroin.

After spending a few hours in Greenville, she drove back to Wilmington, went to the halfway house and attended a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

“All the girls in the house said she was very chipper,” Micheletto said. “She happily participated.”

Then she went to her room, closed and locked the door and took the heroin.

The next day at the halfway house, no one seemed to notice they hadn’t seen her all day until she didn’t show up to the 10 p.m. meeting.

“The girls were saying, ‘Have you seen Megan?’” Micheletto said.

“They tried to open her door, and the door was locked, so they went outside and looked in the window, and they could see her lying there on the bed,” Micheletto said.

Megan was dead.

Since Megan’s death, Micheletto has done a lot of research to try to understand how two of her children became addicted to heroin.

She also discovered that people who have just completed treatment then relapse are the ones most likely to die from an overdose.

“It’s very common for people who have been in treatment to die within the first week after treatment,” she said. “They take the same dose they used before, and that’s too much.”

Overdosing on drugs is the No. 1 killer of young people between the ages of 16 and 30, Micheletto said. Not car accidents, not cancer.

“Why didn’t people tell me, give me a fighting chance to save my child and warn them before they even started down that road?” she said.

Initially, Micheletto was embarrassed and ashamed to admit that her daughter died from a heroin overdose, but now she wants to get the message out that young people are heading down a dangerous path when they start taking prescription opioids recreationally or trying heroin.

“I think we have to open our eyes to what is happening in our communities,” she said. “I want people to know that if it can happen to Megan, it can happen to anybody.”


Information from: The Daily Reflector, https://www.reflector.com

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