Life Lessons

BY Michelle Bliss

Keith Thompson has a picture of his 26-year-old daughter Blaire in her coffin from her funeral in 2004. His wife Rachel describes the photo of Blaire with long curly brown hair draping over her favorite T-shirt as “my little angel resting in peace.” Keith shows it to drug addicts and their families. He gives them copies so they can tape it to their mirrors as a constant reminder of what one more hit could do to them.

In addition to helping other families deal with drug addiction Keith talks to fifth graders for D.A.R.E. graduation ceremonies. He shows them pictures of Blaire as an elementary school teacher in Pender County because he knows the kids can relate to it. He has talked to more than 20 schools in the last few years. He never comes with a prepared speech and he says even though Blaire died four years ago he still gets choked up.

“Im trying to make my daughter a real person who lived in this town that this happened to so that you dont think this is just a storybook thing or something on TV ” Keith says. “Its something that could happen to you. Im trying to make it real.”

Blaires story starts like this: She wanted to be a teacher. Keith and Rachel gave her an overhead projector for Christmas when she was 12 and describe her as the neighborhood schoolmarm. When Keith gives his talks he tells the children that he is a substitute teacher for his daughter.

“I think this was the lesson that my daughter was here to teach you. And if you dont learn any lesson from any teacher youve ever had ” he says “you remember Ms. Thompsons story and dont do this stuff dont do drugs.”

Blaires eight-year battle with drug addiction began her senior year of high school with what her parents think was a small stint of recreational drug use marijuana and maybe cocaine. Then during her freshman year in college at UNCW she took her first shot of heroin at a party. A year later one of Blaires roommates told Rachel and Keith about her drug use.

They confronted Blaire and helped her get on methadone a synthetic heroin that works like a smokers patch to curb withdrawal cravings. Blaire waited in line at a methadone clinic almost every day for two and half years and she dealt with some serious side effects like extreme drowsiness and sweating. But within 5 days of weaning herself off the methadone she was already back on heroin.

Over the course of her addiction Blaire graduated from UNCW magna cum laude with a degree in elementary education. She was pursuing a masters degree so she could be a substance abuse counselor and she also taught at elementary schools in Pender and Columbus counties.

That was the up side. On the down side Blaire danced topless so she could buy drugs and stole about $40 000 in money and property from her parents. She took everything from Rachels engagement ring to blank checks from her parents checkbooks. Rachel describes that time as a nightmare.

“It was every day drama and that went on for eight years. Eight years ” she sighs. “I dont know how we survived it.”

Keith and Rachel debated whether or not to report their stolen goods to the police wondering if Blaire would be safer in jail than in the community. Rachel tells other families who are going through similar ordeals that the hardest part is trying to make seemingly impossible decisions.

“There is no right or wrong when youre dealing with a drug addiction ” Rachel explains. “Its the most helpless hopeless situation a family can ever be in.”

They finally did call the police and Blaire was handcuffed in their foyer. Even with the arrest Blaire was not sentenced to jail because she helped the police with a drug bust. She did end up in jail though for 38 days when she was arrested for stealing surfboards at Wrightsville Beach and pawning them for drug money.

This is part of a letter that Blaire wrote to her parents from her jail cell:

I really have the utmost respect for you both and admire your perseverance. You have lived through hell on earth. And I have lived through my own personal hell for 8 years. I have been a prisoner and I want so much to feel the freedom you feel and every other person on earth who doesnt know the wrath of heroin.

Blaire sent that letter in an envelope with drawings of purple flowers and an “I love you” on it. About two months later she died in a hotel room while five other addicts or drug dealers watched but never called 911. Rachel and Keith spent most of Christmas Eve at Andrews Mortuary.

Keith says they had known for some time that even after stints at two rehab facilities Blaire was just one hit away from dying. “Even though you think you prepare yourself for something you dont because parents are not supposed to outlive their children. Its not supposed to be that way. You think What did drugs take away from me? Well I never saw my daughter get married. I never had a grandchild from my daughter.”

Keith brings up this same question when he talks to fifth graders: What will drugs take away from you? And he tries to answer the question in a way that a 10- or 11-year-old child will understand. He explains that two important factors in most kids lives friends and sports will be ruined by drugs.

“You wont have any friends. You will only have drug friends which are not friends ” he says to them. “And you wont have to worry about sports because you wont be healthy enough to play them.”

Keith also tells the kids that statistically one out of ten of them will be a drug addict.

Despite the difficulty of revisiting their daughters death over and over Rachel and Keith say they wont quit.

“Her lesson that she was here to teach was not to use drugs ” Keith says. “And her death was an example of why not to do it and were just out there retelling the story and hopefully somebody will benefit from that.”

In the same letter Blaire wrote to her parents from jail she talked about her plans to become a substance abuse counselor and a public speaker. She wanted other people to learn from her mistakes.

Dont you understand that this was Gods purpose all along? For me to know the kind of strength I really possess and for the good that will come of all this It will all be worth the pain and misery in the end.

Rachel says that along with fulfilling her daughters wishes by educating others there is another reason why she opens up about Blaire.

“I always want to talk about Blaire. To me its a part of normal grieving ” Rachel explains. “Shes still a big existence in my life whether shes here or there and I talk to her all the time.”

Keith and Rachel will continue sharing Blaires story and giving advice and support to other families because they know what its like to battle a drug addiction when no one else seems to understand. And if they save even just one life then its all worth it.

Help is Here

If you or anyone you know needs help due to alcohol or drug abuse or
addiction call the Crisis line at coastal Horizons (910) 392-7408.

Heroin Addiction

Heroin is an addictive drug that is made from morphine a narcotic extracted from opium and prescribed for medicinal purposes. It is usually a white or brown powder that can be injected sniffed or smoked. After using heroin a person will get a temporary “rush” of euphoria. That quick high is followed by a drowsy mental state. Because heroin depresses the central nervous system users end up feeling clouded and slurring their speech. Theyll also have constipation vomiting and itching.

Within just a few hours the user can start going through withdrawal symptoms like drug cravings insomnia muscle and bone pain vomiting and diarrhea cold flashes and others. A physical addiction can develop as well as a tolerance for the drug so that the user seeks more potent levels of heroin to get the “high” theyre used to.

Keith Thompson says that a heroin addict going through withdrawal is capable of just about anything. “Really a true addict the thing that shocks is the things it forces them to do to steal from you to turn to prostitution to do any damn thing they can do to get that drug because their brain is telling them: If you dont get this drug youre going to die.”

Across the U.S. about 80 000 people become addicted to heroin each year and 14 percent of all drug-related emergency room visits involve heroin.

There are two main ways for treating a heroin addiction: taking medications like methadone which curbs opiate withdrawal symptoms but comes with its own serious side effects and staying at residential or outpatient rehabilitation facilities. After exhausting both options with their daughter Blaire Keith and Rachel Thompson are convinced that better routes to recovery are needed.

“We as a society should not let this happen to our young people. And we can stop it ” Keith says. “We need long-term and affordable care for these people because theyre probably going to have these problems their whole life. And we need better local laws to get some of this stuff off the street.”