Erin’s story: A heroin addict’s last hurrah

kelly-tucker-001By SCOTT SAALMAN
Special to The Herald

Twenty-three-year-old Erin Jarvis still had hope. Her journals tell us this. In pretty purple handwriting, she inscribed this introduction on the opening page of one: “Thoughts that I hope one day may change my world around.” 

A heroin addict’s hope.

But on Feb. 2, 2015, the day after Super Bowl 49, after a year and a half of use and abuse followed by several clean months, she relapsed. Her world did change, ending in Evansville.

By the time Kelly, her mom, rushed home, there were police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck blocking her driveway.

“I knew it was bad,” Kelly said. “They barricaded Erin’s bedroom. They wouldn’t let me inside. I said, ‘Where is she? I want to see my daughter.’ A paramedic told me, ‘She’s gone.’”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I’ve had a few knee surgeries so pain medicine wasn’t a new thing for me. I just never could get enough of it. If I took one pill, I would snort two more. I never knew when to quit.” 

“For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like when people said they can’t feel the weight of their body, can’t hold it up. I slid down that wall and I couldn’t move,” Kelly recalls from her couch, two days before the second anniversary of Erin’s overdose. A purple urn with ashes sits on a countertop. “I wasn’t expecting it. She was doing so well.”

From Erin’s journal: “I feel like there’s no such thing as gravity. For a while now, I’ve found it difficult to secure my feet to the ground. I feel like I’m floating and I have no idea how to get my feet back on the soil, on the grass, on this earth.”

Kelly recalls the coroner’s words at her house, “I don’t want to make this too graphic for you but the needle was still in her hand. She didn’t get all of what was in it in her body. I’m sure she died of sudden cardiac arrest. I suspect whatever was in that syringe was probably not what she thought it was.”

Later came the coroner’s official report: acute heroin overdose — accidental. The body also contained the opioid pain medication Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and NoDoz.

“It created a speedball,” says Kelly. “Your heart doesn’t know when to pump or stop. These kids don’t know what they are getting off the street. This is what is killing our kids.”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I have a very good life, I am very fortunate and thankful for my friends and family but for quite some time now I’ve been confused, lonely, sad and secretive. I’ve fallen into deep limbo and unable to find my way back to even a faint trace of reality.”

Kelly recalls Erin going into her bedroom that night. Erin wore a purple robe. “She said, ‘I love you’ and ‘goodnight.’ That’s the last I saw of her.” 

Erin used the robe’s belt as a tourniquet. 

“A paramedic took me out on the back porch so I couldn’t watch,” Kelly said. “I don’t know why I did it, but I looked back through the window and watched them take her out through the front door in a blue body bag. That’s the last I saw of her. This beautiful little baby with so much black hair, this gorgeous little sweet thing, this little roly-poly, and they take her out that way in a f—— blue body bag.”

In Troy, Ohio, Erin was prom queen (there were about 600 students in her class), she excelled in academics, and was active in student government. Soccer was her sport. 

Kelly holds up a picture frame containing a collage of Erin in action on the soccer field. She looks healthy. Strong. Black braces, though, on both legs tell the tale of two ACL surgeries.

She was prescribed Percocet, which Kelly credits as the precursor to Erin’s addiction: “It’s a highly addictive opioid. The kids with sports injuries can’t get enough medication due to the restrictions on prescribing. So they go to the street and get it. You score heroin a lot cheaper on the street than a pill.”

Surgery during college led to medical complications that further fed into her pain pill addiction. Her boyfriend at the time taught her to mix heroin powder with pain pills and snort it. Later, Erin told her mother, “It was the best I felt since I had my knee surgery. I really like the way it made me feel.”

“That was the start of the end,” says Kelly. “That same guy, two months later, bought her a gram of heroin for her birthday and shot her up for the first time. Nice guy, huh?

“I would find these little corners of sandwich bags in my house. Later, I learned dealers would put capsules of heroin in the bags and tie off the baggies. I would find small drinking glasses in her room, and my lighters for my candles were missing all the time. I think she melted the heroin down in a glass with a lighter.”

From one of Erin’s journals: “She was a vessel, empty, but a vessel longing for fulfillment. It’s hard enough being 23 and confused about the future, but throw in a grandiose, melodramatic dynamic of an addiction, you kind of tend to feel totally f—–.”

“She robbed me blind,” says Kelly. “I locked my bedroom door. When I took a shower, I’d take my purse with me. I got a call about my Discover card, which I only used for emergencies. She was up to $1,200. She was buying stuff and pawning it. I have very little jewelry left. She took the knob off my door. She took my TV and router and laptop. She didn’t get but about $300 for it, but that’s probably a week’s worth of heroin. That’s how sick she was. We are talking about a girl who would die if she hurt my feelings. You would have loved her. You would meet her and want her to marry your son.”

Kelly recalls phone calls from Erin pleading to be retrieved from one of the drug houses she frequented. But when Kelly would ask for an address, there would be nothing but silence. Erin often went missing. Once Erin returned home “dope sick,” a phrase used to describe withdrawal symptoms from heroin. Being dope sick likely won’t kill you, but it’s excruciating enough to make you think it will. 

“I have never seen anything like it in my life. This girl was posturing her arms and throwing up and crying. I couldn’t help her. I was really mad at her, but I knew it wasn’t her,” says Kelly. “She would kick it for three days maybe but then go back. ‘Why, Erin? Why did you go back?’ She said, ‘Mom, you don’t have an addictive personality. You don’t get it. I have an addictive personality. Everything I do is in excess. Don’t try to understand why I do it. Just know that I have a sickness and until I want to quit doing it, it doesn’t matter what you say or do, I’m going to keep doing it.’ ”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I will be 23 years old Tuesday. Crazy to think about. I feel older somehow. Most of my life I’ve been lost. It’s amazing that I’m finally finding myself. I’m going to do something big with this life I’ve been blessed with. I have gifts.”

Erin went to an expensive rehab in Palm Springs, wiping out the college fund for her two siblings. She began journaling. She achieved sobriety. Counselors said she was going to be a good statistic. After that, Kelly moved to Evansville, taking Erin with her to keep her from the familiar temptations of Ohio. Erin became extremely involved in AA. She found a sponsor. She had a job. She continued journaling. She was open and honest with Kelly, going into nightmaric detail about her addictive past. She planned to get a nursing degree and help other addicts. 

From one of Erin’s journals: “I went searching for something to shut my mind up. What I found was wine, vodka, gin, and my personal favorite, whiskey. They gave me the illusion of contentedness. They gave me courage to do things that I never would have done before.”

“She was doing great,” recalls Kelly. “All of sudden she starts drinking again.”

The week before her death, Erin visited her sister in Ohio. In the past, after her sister had her wisdom teeth removed, Erin stole her Percocet. Coincidentally, her former boyfriend, the one who had first supplied her heroin, was just released from prison at the same time Erin visited her sister in Ohio. 

“Nobody will ever know. Only she and God will ever know,” says Kelly. “She must’ve got something there and brought it back. The coroner asked me if I had any idea where she might have gotten the drugs. He said he hadn’t seen an overdose of this type in Evansville before. I said, ‘Sir, it is coming. We were meth in Ohio like you before heroin came. It’s coming, and you are going to see this a lot more.”

Kelly holds a book, “Dream Land: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic,” by Sam Quinones. The book won the National Book Critics Circle Award and documents the shocking and sickening horrors of opiate addiction in the U.S. and its ties to the black tar heroin market.

“This is what one of the premises of this book is about,” she says, waving it in the air. “A kid thinks, ‘I’m just going to do this to get high, I won’t do it again.’ But then he or she gets hooked and continues heroin just to avoid getting dope sick. All I could do was hate the drug and love my daughter. I’m so scared I’m going to forget what she sounds like…her voice…” 

Kelly’s own voice trails off. She thinks about Erin’s final moments in the bedroom a few feet away. “I think she thought, ‘This is the last time I’m going to do this.’ One last hurrah . . .”

From one of Erin’s journals: “I am fearful of relapse, because if I relapse I may die.”