By Lee Coppola
She managed to hide her demons well. In public, she was a caring, considerate, loving young woman. In private, or with others who fought the same battle, the demons took hold.
She battled the demons for years, and with the support of her family she completed one rehabilitation program after another. She tried to live a normal life, but each time she got a job the demons prevailed, and another effort at normalization failed.
The demons were in her mind, in the form of mental illness, and in her body, in the form of drugs. Nobody who loved her knew which demon was more powerful.
Most likely, both demons played a part when she overdosed and died. She was only 43, a graduate of an exclusive private high school and a highly respected Catholic university.
And she was one of a growing list of victims – an average of more than one a day in Erie County – who succumb to an addiction that increasingly has been killing them. Most, like Claire, have been battling the demons for years, in and out of rehabilitation facilities, constant visits to doctors and analysts and, if lucky like Claire, with the love of parents and siblings.
In the end, nothing worked. Claire had just left a three-week stint in a Bradford facility when she injected what was most likely heroin laced with fentanyl. It is a combination that has pushed the number of overdose deaths to record numbers in Western New York and elsewhere.
Each death ups the statistics, but far more importantly, each death represents a person. Someone with dreams and passion. Someone with hope and spirit. Someone who loved. And, hopefully, was loved.
Claire wasn’t alone in death. Others might not have had a father and a sister who wore judicial robes, a mother with a law degree and a brother filled with resolve from successfully battling his own demons, but all their deaths touched others.
So, like a ripple, their deaths reach us all. For my family, Claire was the special child of special friends. She, like others in the fight against addiction, needed more attention than her siblings.
That’s because the most sensitive and gentle among us always seem to have the toughest time battling their demons. They need the most help, and as Claire’s life and the lives of others end too soon, we must wonder whether we have done enough, can do more, so Claire and the others leave this life as more than just statistics.
Their tortured lives must stand for more than tragedy, tears and sympathy. Their lives, and their deaths, must pave a path to prevent more Claires from injecting themselves with a deadly potion.
Now, as the death toll rises, the outcry must gain momentum. Education, some say, helps nip the problem early. And that’s true. Teaching youngsters the perils of drugs makes sense. But what about those already hooked? What about the Claires of the world? The crisis screams for more facilities to treat the addicted. And not just for addiction. Claire also suffered from mental illness, quite possibly the entryway for her addiction.
She had to travel to Bradford to try to kill the dual demons that invaded her. At 43, it was the first time she had been exposed to a facility that specializes in the destruction both demons can cause.
But those who loved her were left to wonder what might have happened if a Bradford-like facility were available closer to home.
Maybe she and others now gone might be alive instead of just statistics. Then again, if enough attention flows into education, if a local dual-treatment facility somehow materializes, Claire and the others will not have died in vain.