After President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national public health emergency Thursday, a metro-east family who lost their daughter to a heroin overdose is hoping his proclamation will prompt policy and legislation changes.
Mike and Sybil Conley’s daughter, Zoe, died of a heroin overdose in late May, at only 20 years old. The Trenton couple’s daughter had been struggling with addiction for five years, and had been in and out of rehab multiple times.
“For Zoe, it was a choice the first time,” Mike Conley said. “But she made that choice at 14 or 15 years old. Should she have died for that? You have to look at everyone as a sympathetic figure, regardless of how they got to where they are.”
Until people do see opioid addiction as an illness, rather than a choice, nothing will change, Conley said. People need to be willing to spend their tax dollars and support policies to help get the epidemic under control.
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“Obviously what we’re doing now isn’t working very well,” Mike Conley said. “I’m glad to see them taking the problem seriously, but ultimately, it has to come down to policy.”
The Conleys watched their daughter struggle with her heroin addiction for five years, often remaining sober for long stretches of time — eight or 10 months — but always ultimately going back to the drug.
Before she died, Zoe Conley had been sober for six months. She relapsed and overdosed, and survived. Then a week later, she overdosed again. But that time she didn’t make it. The heroin she took had been laced with fentanyl.
It’s been five months since the Conleys lost their daughter, and they’ve spent that time mourning and trying to reach out to the community to educate them on addiction. They played host to a program in Trenton, called Ask an Addict, where more than 100 people came to listen to the stories of addicts, and they had the option to ask them questions.
“I don’t think people who have not been addicted ... can really understand that pull that occurs,” Conley said. “When the opioid addict is drug sick, nothing is going to stop them from getting drugs.”
In a speech at the White House on Thursday, Trump announced he was declaring the opioid crisis, which killed more than 33,000 people in 2015, a national public health emergency under federal law. The number of deaths from opioid overdoses has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“We cannot allow this to continue,” Trump said. “No part of our society ... has been spared this plague of drug addiction.”
Fixing the problem will require the resolve of the entire country, Trump said, and will mean everyone from the government to local organizations will need to be mobilized.
He did not, however, dedicate more money to the battle against opioids. By not designating it as a national state of emergency, states can’t get money through the federal Disaster Relief Fund as they would to recover from a hurricane or earthquake, the Associated Press reported.