GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — At only 10 months old, Chance Powell was the youngest victim of the opioid epidemic in Kent County in 2015, the deadliest year the county has seen yet.
Powell, who lived with his grandmother in Sparta, died of morphine toxicity in October, 2015, after accidentally ingesting a pill.
According to the police report, his grandmother told detectives that she kept her morphine bottle inside her bra because her adult kids have drug problems and she couldn’t trust them not to steal the pills.
“She also said that she puts a piece of wadded up tissue in the bottle to keep them from rattling around when she walked,” a detective for the Kent County Sheriff’s Department wrote in his report.
The baby’s death was among 109 fatal drug overdoses in 2015, up from 75 in 2014. Of those 109 overdoses, 84 were due to opioids, like heroin and prescription pain medication.
About two thirds of the opioid overdoses happened in the suburbs. The remaining third happened within the city of Grand Rapids — one in the restroom of an Eastown coffee shop.
The opioid class of drugs is under the microscope due to sharp increase in fatal overdoses in West Michigan and nationwide.
Opioid addicts don’t fit into a single classification — they’re from every area, every social class.
Experts say the addicts often start by getting hooked on prescription opioid painkillers and then switch to heroin because it’s cheaper.
“Our number one priority right now is heroin,” Kent County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Al Roetman previously told Target 8. “It’s the biggest thing that’s plaguing our communities right now, whether you live in a big city or you live in a rural setting. It’s all over the place.”
FACES, STORIES OF PEOPLE LOST TO OPIOIDS IN 2015
Target 8 reached out to the families of dozens of those who died of opioid overdoses in Kent County in 2015. If families did not want their loved one identified, we respected their wishes.
If you know someone who died from an opioid overdoses and wish to pay tribute to them here, please email a picture and remembrance to Target8@woodtv.com.
Bernard Aldrich’s death made headlines, but his mother wants him to be remembered for how he lived his life. Known as Ben by those who knew him, the 35-year-old died while trying to stay clean. “Ben struggled with the chronic disease of addiction for much of his adult life. We all rode the roller coaster with him – sad, worried, and frustrated when he was using – and hopeful, happy and relieved when he was sober,” his mom, Kelly Thurston, said in her son’s eulogy. Aldrich was able to control his addiction as he expected his first child, Olivia. However, in September 2011 Olivia was stillborn. Four months later, he was diagnosed with lymphoma and went on chemotherapy. In May 2012, Aldrich was put on life support for two weeks after coming down with pneumonia. During that time he developed nerve damage in his foot that caused him constant pain. “Ben [was] very honest with the doctor about his past addiction to heroin, but the doctor prescribes methadone because that is the most affordable option for Ben. I will never forget Ben looking at me when the doctor made this suggestion. It was a look of pure panic and he said, ‘Mom, you don’t understand, methadone is very addictive.’ What were his options? Ben began to slip into addiction,” Thurston said. After attempting to commit suicide, he got into a treatment program and was able to get sober. In the eulogy for her son, Thurston said, “He said that almost dying was giving him his life back as it set in motion a sobriety that he hadn’t experienced in years. Rays of sunshine are able to make their way through the dense clouds. He is clear, bright, and witty. He is the Ben I haven’t seen in years and I had almost forgotten. In fact, every time I talked to him, it took me pleasantly and wonderfully, by surprise. Ben is hopeful. We are hopeful. We start dreaming for him again, maybe he can get a food truck, or maybe he can help others navigate this disease. He has such possibilities. I feel so lucky that I had the opportunity to see his wonderful light again.” But pain management was a problem. Thurston said her son’s pain management doctor did not want to prescribe more pain medication and suggested that Aldrich use the methadone program. However, Aldrich was told the methadone program was not for pain management. Thurston said her son went back to using heroin so that he would test positive for drugs in order to get into the methadone program. “What he didn’t realize was that his tolerance for heroin, after more than a month of being clean, was very low and he overdosed,” Thurston said. On March 4, 2015, Aldrich went into the Kava House on Lake Drive in Grand Rapids and ordered a coffee. He then went into the bathroom and shot himself up with heroin. He was found dead in the coffee shop bathroom of an overdose.
Scott Arkovitz, 25, graduated from Grand Valley State University two months before he died of a methadone overdose. “I found him that morning when I went in his room to wake him for an appointment,” wrote his mom, Lori DeRoo. “I was devastated.” DeRoo described her son as a “great kid, so funny and very loving.” Arkovitz, who graduated from East Grand Rapids High School in 2008, experimented with alcohol and drugs throughout his teens. “He always seemed to push the limits and do everything to excess,” wrote his mom. “He was going to AA and NA, trying so hard to recover but was always tempted by prescription painkillers and he took them from a friend’s mother after sleeping at her home.” Arkovitz graduated from GVSU with a BA in broadcasting and interned at WGVU radio and WOOD TV8. He loved to dance and had a passion for life, a sharp wit, and an accepting heart. He also took great pride in his Jewish heritage. “I miss him so much,” wrote his mom. “We were very close. I go through his life every day trying to think of what more I could’ve done to help him but I know in my heart it had to be up to him.”
Travis Bazan’s addiction began in 2009 after he broke his neck snowboarding. “Starting with painkillers, it slowly escalated from there,” wrote his mother Karen. “He was always so happy and outgoing. He loved sports (football was his favorite) and he knew everyone! Everyone knew him as Buzz and whenever his name came up, you would see the smiles on everyone’s faces.” On Nov. 1, 2015, Travis came back to his Grand Rapids home after a night out with friends. He was found later that morning dead in the bathroom from an overdose of heroin and alcohol. “He always had a positive attitude towards life. We can’t think of many times when Travis wasn’t smiling. His smile is still so contagious just from all of the pictures and memories we have. His smile and huge sense of humor is something that will always stick with us. You’re forever in our hearts and minds. We love you,” his mother wrote.
“Within two years he went from being a happy, outgoing, smart, athletic kid to dying of a heroin overdose,” wrote Riley Brooks’ father, Douglas Brooks. Riley and his wife had recently welcomed a baby into the world when the new dad, 21 years old, was found dead in bed from a heroin overdose. “From an early age, he showed love to everyone, always trying to make others happy,” wrote Brooks’ family. “Riley cared for others more than he cared for himself. If someone ask for a favor he would do anything possible to help as much as he could.” Riley, who was from Lowell, graduated from a Christian high school and volunteered for several years with a nondenominational Christian organization founded to exhibit the love and acceptance of Jesus Christ. “He was around 19 when he was introduced to some people who were involved with drugs,” wrote Riley’s father, who said the family didn’t know Riley was involved with heroin until the autopsy came back. “Ri, we all wish we had more time to hold you and look at you and kiss the top of your head, and tell you that we love you one more time,” Riley’s family wrote in his obituary. “We know that no bed bugs will be biting you in heaven, and we hope our journey to see you will not be too long delayed.”
Virginia “Ginger” Brown, 56, tried to get help before her death. Around age 30, she began taking recreational drugs following the death of her father. Her husband, Doug Brown, said cocaine was her drug of choice. “She was self-medicating for depression,” he said. After hurting her back at work, Virginia Brown was prescribed methadone for the pain. Doug Brown says she did not follow the directions on her prescriptions and would take the dose she thought she needed. Despite the pain, Virginia was an avid gardener and loved to do crafts with her grandchildren and nieces. Doug Brown said his wife had substance abuse problems; she went to rehab, tried programs at the Salvation Army inside Ferguson Hospital and then lived in house on Lyon Street in Grand Rapids for three months. Doug Brown said his wife still took her prescription methadone, but she didn’t know that methadone was “slow-acting” or that it had a “half-life.” She died of an accidental overdose on June 14, 2015.
“As a parent, just keep your eyes open and be aware if you see your child acting different,” said Debbie Phillips. Her daughter, Alisha Camp, was 36 years old when she died from an accidental overdose of methadone in September 2015. Camp had back issues. “She was getting shots, it just got out of hand,” Phillips said. Eventually, Camp was given a methadone prescription for the pain. Phillips says she does not think her daughter tried to go to rehab. “You just gotta push. I guess I wish I would have pushed harder, but she was a grown adult, what do you do?” Phillips said. Shortly before her daughter’s death, Phillips said they went to Tanger Outlets together. “It was great. I felt like my real daughter was back,” she said. They next day, they went back and it was different. “She took pills and within a couple hours, she started acting different. Kept falling asleep. It was next morning that she passed away… and then your whole life changes. She was very loving, caring, would do anything for anybody.” Phillips said the drugs took a good person away. “She worked very, very hard. Just that quick, her whole life changed.” Camp left behind a fiancé and two children.
“She was a ray of sunshine at family gatherings,” said Lisa Abel, the mother of Alicia Carigon. On January 27,, 2015, Carigon was found dead from an accidental overdose from a mix of recreational and prescription opiates. Abel said Carigon was diagnosed with a rare disease in her mid-teens and became hooked on pain medication and later turned to using heroin because it was cheaper. “She tried to step away from the wrong crowd but kept getting pulled back in,” Abel said of her daugther. Carigon tried treatment programs but they never took. “Once you got her to that point, she failed. She couldn’t overcome,” Abel said. “She was a beautiful, 30-year-old woman.” Carigon nearly died from a Vicodin overdose in 2012 and spent time in a coma at the University of Michigan hospital. “When she came out, she swore she would stay away from drugs,” Abel said. Carigon was addicted for nearly half her life. “She was a warm person who loved her family, especially her daughter,” Abel said.
“He was a fun-loving guy who loved to joke around and had a very kind heart,” said Regina Duplanty of her son, Michael Anthony Colby, was 33 years old when he died in February 2015 of an accidental overdose of heroin and fentanyl. Colby had almost died a decade earlier, after having a “widowmaker” heart attack related to cocaine use. He started using heroin a couple years before his death. Duplanty said he landed in jail after police raided his home and found marijuana and heroin. He was released from jail just three months before his death. When released, Duplanty said there was no probation order requiring treatment for her son’s addiction and she couldn’t force him to get the help he needed. Colby left behind a wife, daughter and three step-children.
When Jonathan Eisenman moved to Grand Rapids from Bay City, Mich., his mother thought it would be good for him. At age 15, the boy who loved to skate and write hip-hop lyrics started taking Norco with a friend. When the pills ran out, the teens switched to heroin. The family tried everything they could think of to get him clean, and thought it had worked. After high school, Jonathan moved to Grand Rapids to live with his older brother and attend Grand Rapids Community College. He was an avid reader who loved history and music. He is described as an amazing cook who “love, love, loved to skateboard.” His mother, Claire Eisenman, said her son had been clean for two years before he overdosed. “It’s like I had my John back again,” she said. For some unknown reason, that all changed in September 2015. Jonathan stayed up one night hanging out with his brother at the home they shared near John Ball Park. They went to bed around 12:30 a.m. and the next morning, his brother noticed something was wrong when Jonathan’s car was still in the driveway. He found his younger brother dead in the bathroom from what investigators say was an accidental overdose. Family members don’t know if this was the first time Jonathan had tried heroin since getting clean, or if he had been hiding it from them for a while. Since then, his family has been talking with other families who know their pain and loss. “I wish we were more aware that once you try that drug, you can’t ever let go of it,” Claire Eisenman said.
“She traveled the world and had a passion for animals and wildlife,” according to Linda Hall, the mother of Jessica Hall. Known as Jessie, the second oldest of six children, Jessica Hall died of a heroin overdose on April 26, 2015 at the age of 30. “We raised our children up in church to serve the Lord. Wanting the very best for each and every one of them, never dreaming or thinking something so tragic like heroin would take our sweet baby girl’s life,” Linda Hall said. Jessica Hall studied zoology at Grand Rapids Community College and Grand Valley State University on and off for four years. She dedicated her life to the service and preservation of nature. She travelled to Alaska, where she worked as a rangers’ assistant; to the Gulf Coast to help clean up an oil spill; and abroad where she continued to serve. Linda Hall hopes that her daughter’s death can serve as an example to others. “My prayer is this story will help save lives,” she said. “We’ve already lost too many to heroin. Let it stop now!”
“Adam was a bright, kind-hearted person who faced a great deal of obstacles in his life,” said Adam Halperin’s mother, Lindsey Shull. Halperin was 33 years old when he died of a fentanyl overdose in July 2015. “He loved animals and hoped to one day be a zookeeper. He studied the earth and nature and if anyone ever needed a random fact, he was your guy,” Shull wrote. “Adam loved art and was an excellent artist, especially drawing trees. He also loved to paint.” Adam’s right leg was paralyzed then amputated in 2013. He felt phantom pain and began to abuse his prescription pain killers. Five days before his death, Halperin underwent back surgery to help reduce the pain. “He was finally going to be out of pain and perhaps could walk with a prosthetic leg. We were ecstatic!” said Shull. His family says doctors sent him home with 10-100mcg fentanyl patches for the pain, which according to family members, is more than usual because the doctors didn’t want them to have to go to the pharmacy every three days to pick up Halperin’s prescriptions. Halperin was last seen with three patches duct-taped to his arm. He was found dead in his apartment of an overdose on July 29, 2015. “He was my little boy and life is not the same without him,” Shull wrote. “It never will be again.”
“She was my life. My whole life stopped when she passed away,” said Gary Howell. His wife, Tracy, became addicted to opiates while treating migraine headaches. Married 20 years, Tracy got hooked about three years before her death as doctors prescribed a series of more and more powerful, medications. Gary also got addicted and lied about back pain in order to get his own prescription for pain medication. According to Gary Howell, Tracy Howell was a good mom, wife and grandmother. As a couple, they enjoyed walks at Johnson Park, flea markets and drives. But the couple began to stay home and go out less and less as their addictions took over. On Jan. 28, the Howells each took their prescribed medication and went to bed. Around midnight Gary Howell’s daughter found Tracy Howell dead in the couple’s bed from an accidental overdose. Gary Howell said he “was out of it” when his wife was found next to him. A couple months after her death, he went cold-turkey and says he has been clean for the past two years. Tracy’ Howell’s death was ruled an accidental overdose. She left behind a husband, three children of her own, three children by marriage and four grandchildren.
“We lost everything because of the drugs,” said the widow of John Meriwether. Married for 30 years, she says her husband struggled with substance abuse the whole time. Meriwether had prostate cancer, two blood clots on his brain and was on dialysis. He was also a heroin user. “He tried to make sure bills were paid and the family taken care of, but he couldn’t beat his addiction,” she said. “We lost everything. We were homeless there for a while. He went to jail. We lost everything because of the drugs.” On April 9, 2015, Meriwether went to dialysis. He went to the grocery store with family afterward but was “acting strange.” Family members told investigators Meriwether sat down in a chair and died. His death was ruled an accidental overdose from heroin. “It doesn’t just hurt (the person), it hurts the whole family,” his widow said.
Kristin Miller was a mother of two young children. She was just 30 years old when her battle with drug abuse came to an end. “Kristin, like most, was not raised by the Brady Bunch; her childhood was not the greatest,” said Miller’s aunt, Mary Huggins. “She was a track superstar at one point and had full scholarship to college.” Miller earned some college credit but did not graduate. “She started experimenting with different things at a young age,” Huggins said. Miller’s battle with addiction cooled somewhat with the birth of her first child. However, her time sober was short-lived; she continued to experiment heavily with opiates until she overdosed on Easter morning, April 5, 2015. Her son Braxtin was just 6 months old. Huggins adopted Miller’s children shortly after her death. Her daughter, Aailya, now 9, says she finds peace in the fact that “at least I know my mom is with Jesus now.”
“My mama was so much about living,” said Angela Nelson’s daughter, Syreeta Drake. “My main message regarding her would be that despite a difficult life and many setbacks, she never lost her smile, her zeal for life, her femininity, her surreal love for others, her light or the fire in her eyes. I would convey that she had a captivating presence, was a protector of others, and she loved her family (especially her daughters and grandchildren) with a love that one would have to experience to understand. This is my Mama… at her very core; she was love, light, and truth for all who knew her.” Drake went on to say her mother became addicted “while she was seeking the absence of pain in the life.” A breast cancer and domestic abuse survivor, Nelson was paralyzed from the waist down after being shot 20 years earlier. On Jan. 10, 51-year-old Grand Rapids resident was found dead in bed at home — she had overdosed on a mix of heroin and cocaine. “I have chosen to honor her memory by continuing to help those in the throes of addiction and being helpful to others as a form of honor to the love she gave and what I always hoped she would do alongside me if she hadn’t died at 51. By continuing to be a voice for the voiceless and helping those who have been hurt and abused, I am doing what is meaningful to her and me; I still carry the card she bought me that says she’s proud of the things I do to help others,” Drake writes.
He was a month and a half away from his first birthday. Of the more than 80 Kent County opiate overdose deaths in 2015, Chance Powell was by far the youngest. The police report and death certificate tell the tragic story. Young Chance was living with his grandmother in Sparta on Oct. 19, 2015. The family woke up on Oct. 20 to find Chance having a seizure. He was rushed to the hospital, where doctors found Chance had significant swelling on the brain. He died at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital three days later. It was later determined that Chance had overdosed on morphine. It’s believed he somehow got a hold of one of his grandmother’s morphine tablets she took for back pain. His grandmother told police she kept the morphine and her blood pressure medication in a pill bottle in her bra so family members couldn’t steal them. Chance’s death was ruled accidental and no charges were filed. He is buried at Rosedale Memorial Park.
“There had been many previous overdose scares which required 911 assistance, ambulance rides and hospital stays where my son eluded death,” said Renee Smith, whose son Donald Smith II died from an accidental overdose. “Feb. 13, 2015, addiction won.” Donald Smith II had a bright future, his mom said. At just 25 years old, “his smile was contagious, his laugh infectious.” Her son’s addiction spiraled out of control, causing him to drop out of school and became distant with his family. “My son became someone I did not know,” said Renee Smith. She decided that she would no longer enable her son and forced him out of her home. Donald Smith II, unwilling to commit to rehabilitation services, continued spiraling. But Renee Smith says she never gave up on her son. She said she got a phone call the day before he died. “I love you, Mom, and I’ll talk to you soon,” Renee Smith recalled him saying. “Little did I know those would be the last words my son would ever say to me.” Smith hopes that if nothing else, her son’s death can motivate others to seek help in their battles with addiction. “I have to believe it is my and my son’s purpose to help others live, through the story of his death. Please do not allow my son’s story to be your story.”
Josh and Megan Tallent started dating at age 16. “Our model for most of our life was to work hard, play hard” said Megan Tallent. “He was incredibly smart and worked hard from the time he graduated high school, finishing his degree in food science at Michigan State University in just three years. He found a job that he enjoyed straight out of college and worked there for nine years.” The couple married shortly after he got his degree. “There was nothing more important to him than family and he was the one who helped keep him and his eight siblings connected to each other,” Megan Tallent said. She said she quit drinking when she got pregnant with their son, Isaac. But “Josh picked up harder, legal drugs that were easily obtainable from the internet. Within a year, Josh was a completely different person. His work and relationships with family and friends began to change,” she said. “I began drinking again and was too deep into my own addiction to fully see just how bad he was suffering.” Megan Tallent said her husband didn’t begin to use opiates until May of 2015, but got clean in June before relapsing in July. “This relapse was fatal. Something was lacking in his life and like so many, he thought that drugs could fill that void and eventually it turned into an addiction. In the months leading up to his overdose, he tried reaching out as best as he knew how, but it was hard. We were isolated from family and friends, living an hour away from anyone we were close with. He struggled with depression and thought it a weakness that needed to be hidden instead of seeking professional help,” she said, adding that her late husband would want to help others struggling with addiction. “It isn’t something that can be done alone and there are ways of getting help. I was on a path that easily could have led to the same end as Josh, but his death brought me back. I sought help through Alcoholics Anonymous and I’m making a life for myself and our son that I never thought I would be able to and have been sober for 18 months. I know that Josh is proud of us, but I wish we could have taken the journey to sobriety together. Getting clean is not always easy, but it is worth it. Always.”