An average of five Oregonians die every week from an opioid overdose. But the impact of the drug epidemic reaches far beyond those lives lost, as the waves of pain and loss extend outward.
Memories are all Jeannie Uetz has left of her daughter, Melanie Jones-Troup.
“She had the most beautiful dimples and green eyes,” Jeannie said. “People would stop us in the grocery store and go, ‘Look at those dimples!’ She was beautiful.”
In August, Melanie was prescribed OxyContin after a dental operation. A couple days later, Jeannie got a call from Melanie’s partner, saying he could not wake her. Jeannie climbed in the car with her husband and raced up to their Bend home.
“Just as we got there, the paramedics were walking out of the house, and she was gone,” Jeannie said. “They had tried to revive her, and her partner had tried CPR, but she was gone.”
The official cause of death was an accidental overdose.
“I can’t tell you how hard it’s been,” Jeannie said, through the tears. “She had a 19-month-old baby who’s now without his momma. And I’m without my daughter.”
It’s no secret that Americans have a serious opioid problem.
A study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse showed prescription rates are higher in Central Oregon than they are across the rest of the state and the country, although those rates have gone down over this decade.
Oregon also has one of the highest rates of misuse of prescription opioids in the nation, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
“Something needs to be done,” Jeannie said. “Oxy and these kinds of drugs are very dangerous. It can’t bring her back, but maybe, if it can just save one life, this time I’m spending here is worth it.”
After Melanie died, Jeannie got a call from one of her daughter’s adult sons, who had lost contact with the family, He gave her news that, under any other circumstances, would’ve been welcomed with only joy.
“Melanie became a grandmother, 12 days after she died,” Jeannie said. “She will never know the joy of being grandma to this little boy.”
Jeannie said Melanie had dealt with addiction issues in the past.
This mother’s message to anyone affected by the opioid epidemic is clear: It’s all about communication with people who care. She thinks it could have helped to prevent her daughter’s fatal overdose.
“Listen to their voice, and if you are that voice, speak out,” she said, fighting back the tears. “Get help. Reach out. And another life will not have to be wasted. Another mother will not have a broken heart. Another mother will not have to miss her daughter.”
One positive trend seen of late: Risky prescribing practices, like overlapping prescriptions and over-prescriptions, have all decreased across the tri-county area, according to the Oregon Opioid Data Dashboard.