“I am here for many reasons. But when you put them all together its because im a drug addict. I want the insanity to stop. I am tired & run down. I feel like im a 50 year old stuck in a 19 year olds body. Im here to get stronger, Im broken emotionally and phsically. I cant stand to look at myself in the mirror. I don’t feel beautiful anymore. My emotions are out of control. And i want to feel beautiful again, also i want to feel sane, whatever that is. Im here to learn how to control my emotions and deal with life as it comes. I truly just want to be Jessica Renee Campion.”— Jessica’s Journal, May 29, 2014.
She always signed her full name like that, Esther York said, staring down at a stack of journals, letters and the last birthday card her daughter ever gave her.
“Jessica Renee Campion.”
Campion was barely 20 years old when she died of a heroin overdose at her mother’s Windsor Locks home. The chair where York found her daughter that day sits innocently in a corner of the small suburban home, while pictures of Campion as a blue-eyed teenager look down from almost every wall.
“My quirky little girl, I called her,” York said, with tears in her eyes.
Campion was one of the more than 300 people who died heroin-related deaths in Connecticut last year. That number is dramatically higher than previous years — a trend that mirrors national numbers — prompting officials in the state and around the country to declare heroin a public health crisis.
In Connecticut, the numbers also show the spread of heroin use. Over the past three years, the number of towns with at least one fatality jumped from 45 to 79, leaving parents like York wondering how the drug made its way into their usually quiet communities.
After her daughter’s death, York reached out to the schools, to recovery organizations, to Campion’s friends; anyone who would listen to her daughter’s story. She said she didn’t want another mother to go through what she had.
“It’s happening to too many of our 20-year-olds,” York said. “We’re losing them.”
This is Campion’s story, told through interviews with her mother and journal entries and writing assignments Campion completed during her last stay in a drug rehabilitation center during the spring and summer of 2014.
“Dear heroin, You came into my life when i was very young. At first you were fun and exciting, giving me joy. You became my best friend very quickly. Heroin you give me this comfortable feeling, your my liquid courage. I was anything and anyone when you were around …”— Jessica Campion’s Journal
There are collages of photographs spread out on the bed in Campion’s room; the type that friends and family put together for funerals and memorial services. The little girl in the pictures has light-colored hair and piercing bright blue eyes.
“She was so beautiful,” York said.
The bedroom — still almost exactly as Campion left it — looks like any other young woman’s room. Framed photographs of friends and family stand next to the hair and makeup products littering her vanity. An Audrey Hepburn print is hung on the wall above Campion’s bed, all in black and white except for bright red lipstick. An unopened candy bar sits on the nightstand.
A brightly colored drawing of a cat is tacked to the wall. Campion loved animals, York said, especially her dog, Mia, but she sort of identified with cats. Some of her friends called her “Kitty.”
Over the years, Campion kept several cats, a ferret and a guinea pig, York said. When she was little, she even tried to rescue a baby robin that had fallen on to the ground.
Campion “really enjoyed life,” York said. She loved her friends and she loved her family.
“She was a pain in the ass,” York said, laughing.
Campion liked sunflowers and roses. Her smile was infectious. “She could walk into a room and make everyone laugh,” York said.
But beneath her spirited exterior, Campion struggled with mental illness, York said. York believes her daughter suffered from untreated schizophrenia. As a child, York said Campion would draw or write poetry to cope with the things she heard. As a teenager, she turned to drugs.
At a very young age, Campion began using marijuana, York said. It wasn’t long before she began searching for a stronger high, taking pills that she got from friends or classmates, even stealing medications from her mother’s medicine cabinet. When she was about 13, York said, Campion went into her first rehabilitation program under the custody of the state Department of Children and Families.
It was about that same time, York believes, that Campion began using heroin.
“It’s a cheap drug,” York said, bitterly.
Because she had been stealing medications from York, Campion could not stay with her mother in between the rehabilitation programs she frequented during her teenage years, but when she turned 18, she moved back in with York.
Campion became increasingly secretive and argumentative. She would avoid York when she was using, refusing to answer texts or calls, and when they were together, little annoyances turned into full-blown fights.
She was lying, cheating and stealing; anything in order to feed her habit.
“I lost a lot of trust in her,” York said. “I’ve had many computers stolen. I’ve had many TVs stolen. I’ve had a lot of cash stolen. She’d take my bank card and wipe me out.”
The worst fight they ever had was over $20, York said. She had refused to give Campion the money, knowing that it would go toward buying drugs. Campion became enraged and assaulted her. York ended up in the hospital with two staples in her head.
“She was hiding, and heroin addicts will do what they have to do to hide it,” York said, holding back tears.
No matter what happened to her, it seemed Campion would always turn back to heroin. It was painful, York said, trying again and again to find the right way to help Campion, but she knew that, deep down, she was still her little girl.
“I knew this heroin person was not Jessica. That was not my daughter,” York said. “A mother never gives up on her child.”
When Campion was 19, she went into her last treatment center — a residential facility in California. In her journal, Campion wrote about boys and friends and gossip. She talks about her family. She expresses her concerns about growing up, like any young woman would. But she also wrote about cravings, dreaming about needles and wondering if she would beat the addiction, or if it would beat her.
“My roommate here is cool … she says she is going to help me stay clean. … Her sister died of a heroin overdose on the toilet w/ a needle in her arm. That’s how i thought i was gonna die.”— Journal entry dated May 21, 2014
The last picture that York and Campion took together sits in a frame on a coffee table at York’s house. They took the picture when York flew out to California to see her daughter for her 20th birthday. At the time, Campion was just a couple weeks away from the end of her treatment program.
While she was in California, Campion’s court case from the assault on York had been dropped. She was getting clean, she was getting healthy and things were looking up. York hoped that this time might be different.
The visit was a surprise for Campion, who wrote in her journal that she hardly recognized York when she first saw her. The pair went to the beach and talked about plans for when Campion came home.
“I love my mommy,” Campion wrote. “She is truly the best mom.”
Through all the fights and all the pain, York said she never doubted how much her daughter loved her, and for a little while that weekend, she said, she got her little girl back. Campion wanted to come home, she wanted to spend time with her family, finish high school and enroll in college. She wanted to channel her love of animals into becoming a veterinary technician, buy her own car and move into her own apartment.
She wanted to fall in love, and she wrote all those plans in her notebook.
“We got so, so close,” York said.
“I cant wait to sleep in my bed and cuddle with my dog. I wanna go home. I wanna go home. I wanna go home. I wanna go home. … I never wanna go to another rehab ever again.”— Journal entry dated June 13, 2014
Campion took a flight home from California on June 18, 2014, and landed at Bradley International Airport late that night. York took the following day off and stayed home with Campion as friends stopped by to say hello. They told her how good she looked and how they would all support her in her recovery, York said.
Campion even went to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, she said.
“Everything was great,” York said.
Campion’s notebook has a page dedicated to her “72 hour plan” — her first three days outside of rehab, fully scheduled so she wouldn’t stray and fall off the wagon.
She made it to the second day.
“God please help me get strength and courage to get through this. Please help me want to stay sober. Ease my pain or let it come out. Give me hope and willingness to want to stay sober.”— Journal entry dated May 21, 2014
On June 20, 2014, York got up and got ready to go to work. She didn’t want to leave Campion alone, but work was swamped and she needed to be there, she said. York woke Campion up, told her she loved her and left.
“I started calling around 10 a.m. and she wouldn’t answer,” York said. She thought Campion might be sleeping in and was concerned that she would fall back into the same bad habits, sleeping all day and partying at night.
York called. She texted. No answer.
By the time she drove home, York was worried and angry that Campion hadn’t responded.
She opened the door and found Campion lying in an armchair with her dog, Mia, curled up next to her.
“I yelled ‘Jessica!’ No answer,” York said. “And I touched her and she was cold.”
York tried to resuscitate her daughter and the emergency crews that responded to her home tried to administer naloxone, a drug marketed as Narcan that can counter the effects of an opioid overdose, but it was too late.
“I walked into her bedroom and I saw the heroin on her bed, the needle and the spoon, and I screamed,” York said.
“I pick up the rig and 2 grams of heroin mix it up, tie off, and blast off. My body feels warm. I begin to relax, my body going limp. I tell myself to lay on the kitchen tile floor, it looked comfy. Mia begins to whine. She lays next to me and licks my face, until i drift off into the light. Now it is 5:30 pm, my mom pulled up. She went clothes shopping for me as a surprise. She came in yelling “Jess, hey Jess!” Then she stopped, paused for a good minute and realized i was far gone. I still had the tie and rig on my arm. My mom clentched my cold limp body and cried for hours. When she was able to she called 911 to come get me. She called my dad, he raced right over. Both my parents were holding each other. Screaming and crying.”— Jessica Campion, in an excerpt from a rehabilitation writing assignment called “Negative outcome.”
“My house was a crime scene that night,” York said, sitting in the same room where she found Campion that day, just over a year ago.
“But she was at peace.”
York said she tells Campion’s story so other parents will realize that addiction can reach anyone, and so other young people will realize they aren’t invincible. Addicts never know if the next high will be their last, she said, and parents never think it will be their child lying on the floor, dead from an overdose.
But Campion didn’t even need to travel to Hartford to get her drugs, York said. She was getting them right down the street in her quiet suburban neighborhood and bringing them home.
“There is a problem, people,” she said. “Wake up!”
York said part of the problem is that there is still a stigma surrounding addiction. While most medical professionals and even some law enforcement officials are now emphasizing the need to treat addicts like patients rather than criminals, York said people still have preconceived notions about the kind of person who becomes a heroin addict.
“People think that they’re bad people because they’re addicted to heroin,” she said. “People don’t understand that part of the addiction is mental illness.”
York said that she knows her daughter wasn’t perfect, but that she was not a bad person, and York refuses to be ashamed of her.
“I’m not embarrassed with what my daughter went through,” she said.
York said she kept the journals and notebooks from Campion’s last rehabilitation stay along with the birthday cards and letters because she needs to remember both sides of her daughter — the happy, loving, pretty girl in all the pictures, and the addict, who desperately wanted to be better for her mother, even if she couldn’t do it for herself.
“I do know how much she loved me,” York said.