1 of 2
Photo by Jason White
Dollie Cooper of Rosewood Heights holds a photo of her three daughters, from left, Trisha, Tara and Traci. Trisha and Tara both died of heroin overdoses.
2 of 2
Photo by Jason White
Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons, right, talks to Dave Admire of Bethalto at Friday’s Madison County Heroin Task Force meeting in the County Board Room of the Madison County Administration Building in Edwardsville. Coroner Stephen P. Nonn, background, talks to Dollie Cooper of Rosewood Heights.
EDWARDSVILLE — Heroin brought Dollie Cooper of Rosewood Heights to a stark choice: forfeit her daughter’s freedom or lose a third child.
She took the only path she could, and her oldest daughter, Traci, eventually thanked her for a stint in jail that saved her life.
“She told me they didn’t realize they were sick,” Cooper said. “They just thought everybody hated them.
“If they think nobody cares and there’s no hope, than what’s the use of getting off it?”
Cooper was one of two parents who spoke Friday at a Madison County Heroin Task Force meeting at the Madison County Administration Building in Edwardsville. State’s Attorney Tom Gibbons and Madison County Sheriff Bob Hertz formed the task force in February to study the effectiveness of past efforts to fight the problem, assess the problem’s current status and develop a plan to reduce addiction and save lives.
“I think the most compelling part of the story ... is the human impact, the human cost of the disease of addiction,” Gibbons said.
Cooper, a nurse who worked for 30 years at Saint Anthony’s Health Center in Alton and retired as a supervisor at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, said her daughters started using heroin at parties.
“That was the beginning of a very wide-eyed nightmare,” she said.
Her youngest daughter, Trisha, was her first child to get addicted to the drug. To feed her habit, she stole a computer and printed counterfeit bills. She stole checks from her mother. Eventually, Trisha moved to avoid arrest.
Just five days after her father died, Dollie got a call from her middle daughter, Tara, screaming into the phone. Trisha was dead of an overdose.
After that, Dollie turned to research to help her understand addiction. But eight years ago, before the current drug epidemic, not as many resources were available, she said.
“It just didn’t seem like there was anywhere to turn,” she said.
After Tara came home from a drug rehabilitation facility in 2011, Dollie let her use her car on Halloween with a plan to reunite later to take Tara’s son trick-or-treating. But Dollie didn’t know one of Tara’s “triggers” — a sight, smell or sound that can cause addicts to relapse — was the sight of an interstate sign.
Tara was found on the side of a road, the victim of an overdose. Dollie and her ex-husband rushed to Barnes as soon as they got the call. The doctors told them a CAT scan revealed severe brain damage. Tara died Oct. 31, 2011, at the age of 29.
“She was a beautiful girl,” Dollie said. “She was my angel.”
Dollie’s grandson was angry at his mother and his grandmother for letting her drive the car. She said he went “berserk” after his mother’s death.
“His mother had never broken a promise to him; why didn’t she come back,” Dollie said.
“I felt like I had let the whole world down,” she said.
But addiction had yet to release its grip on the family.
Her oldest daughter, Traci, began using the drug. Traci and her boyfriend lost their house and ended up living with Dollie.
One night Dollie heard screaming. She ran to Traci’s room and found her sitting up in her bed, unconscious. Dollie revived Traci with CPR and took her to the hospital, where doctors had trouble finding a vein to draw blood. Traci had been shooting up through her neck because her other veins had collapsed.
The next time Traci and her boyfriend went on a drug run, Dollie called the police and Traci was arrested.
After six months in prison, Traci told her mother she was laughing more than she had in a while. Heroin use blocks the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood.
Today, Dollie’s grandchildren are doing well and she’s hopeful about her remaining daughter’s future. She wants to start a support group to help other parents dealing with addiction.
“My only advice is don’t give up,” Cooper said. “If I can help any one person save their child, that’s my goal.”
Dave Admire of Bethalto said his son started using heroin after taking the painkiller Vicodin for a sports injury. One year after the injury, he quit sports and in July 2012 told his father he was addicted to heroin.
He went through multiple rehab facilities, which Admire’s insurance only partially funded — the rest he paid for, costing him $5,000 per week. After a second overdose, he sent his son to his sister’s house in South Carolina, but he came back and started hanging out with the same crowd.
His son overdosed a few times — once his brother found him on the living room floor; once his friends dumped him at an emergency room and stole his wallet before leaving.
Admire said he finally got fed up with his son’s stealing and threw him out of the house.
“I turned him over to my higher power,” Admire said.
After his son returned home, emaciated and in poor health, he was admitted to a boot camp in Pinckneyville, Ill. He’s scheduled to be released in late July.
“Now he realizes that it probably saved his life,” Admire said.
Admire said more resources should be allocated to help families pay for rehab facilities and to address mental health issues that lead to addiction. His son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a common mental illness among addicts.
“As parents we can only do so much to help them,” Admire said. “Then it’s up to them.
“I’m trying to keep him alive long enough for him to want it.”
The task force’s next meeting will be 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 25, in the Madison County Administration Building, 157 N. Main St., Edwardsville. Families can learn about intervention strategies from Rebecca Mowen of Recovery 360, and a member of the St. Louis County heroin task force will talk about that group’s experiences.