Recently, in 24-hour period, six people in Cleveland died from opioid overdoses. Cleveland has been described as ground zero for opioid overdose, and our community is facing a real and pervasive crisis. But Cleveland is not alone. There is a heroin and opioid epidemic across the nation cruelly claiming the lives of people of all ages.
One Pittsburgh woman and her daughter set out to help those in the throes of addiction – just not in the way they wanted or ever thought they would. Casey Schwartzmier, a friend of my family, died at the young age of 20 of a heroin overdose last month, just one day before she was to enter rehab.
Eerily, shortly before she died, Casey asked her mother to tell her story of addiction if she ever were to overdose in the hope of helping others. Her mother, Michelle Schwartzmier, promised her daughter she would, not knowing just how soon she would need to uphold that promise.
Below is Casey’s obituary – raw, honest, poignant and beautiful – written by Michelle to honor her daughter’s life and her final wish. The obituary has gone viral and has appeared in local Pittsburgh, national and even some international media outlets, including the Washington Post, New York Post and Huffington Post.
Michelle said, “It breaks my heart to do any of this, but it truly is what she wanted. I’ve gotten messages from all over the country saying positive things – addicts who read it and want to get treatment now and a school teacher who showed it to her health class. I’m just overwhelmed that Casey’s wish is coming true…I will keep pushing her message because this was her goal – to try to reach people – and hopefully it can help someone.”
Casey Marie Schwartzmier, 20, of Ross Township, passed away Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017, of an accidental heroin overdose after a long brave battle with addiction. She was the daughter of Richard and Michelle (Waldorf) Schwartzmier; sister of Eric Schwartzmier; granddaughter of Mary (Planic) and the late Richard F. Schwartzmier and Jerome B. Waldorf; and also survived by many aunts, uncles and cousins.
Casey never wanted to be defined only by her addiction and mistakes, she was so much more than that. She made it clear if she was to ever pass as a result of it, she wanted people to know the truth with the hope that honesty about her death could help break the stigma about addicts and get people talking about the problem of addiction that is taking away so many young lives. Casey was a beautiful, intelligent child of the suburbs who fell into its grip. It can happen to anyone. She was feisty and outspoken but would do anything for anyone and always lit up the room with her smile and sense of humor, even while struggling with her demons. She loved her family deeply, wanted to adopt every animal she saw and play with every child she came across.
Casey believed strongly in second chances, maybe because she craved another chance for herself and other addicts, so she donated her life saving organs to give someone else, a second chance at life. That was Casey: this amazing woman should be remembered for this and not her mistakes. Casey believed that hiding her cause of death would help no one, but if her story could help just one addict push even harder for another day of sobriety, encourage an active user to choose recovery or shine a light on this horrible epidemic, then it would be worth coming out of the shadows. She was very open about her struggles and now is not the time to change that. This strong attitude with a fierce drive and loving beautiful heart that wanted to help other addicts even in death is one of the many things that she can be defined by, not her addiction.
Casey wanted to live. She had dreams of a future career, children of her own and fought hard all the way until the end, one day away from entering rehab, but couldn’t break the chains of this demon that’s wiping out a generation. Addiction doesn’t discriminate, it will take hold and destroy anyone in its path, including the families and people who love them. Addiction hides in the faces of everyday people all around us. Casey isn’t just another statistic or just ‘another one gone too soon,’ she was a great heart with a bright future and a gift that the world lost and can never be replaced. So the best way to honor Casey, is for people who read this or knew her to think twice before you judge an addict.
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Once people really understand the problem, I think people will not judge addicts but will see them as victims of a tragedy. The heart of the problem is opioid abuse. We have to start seeing doctors as the dope pushers that they are.