Story of Ashley Sims’ death helped raise awareness of the problem
Awareness of the addiction problem has grown since Ashley Sims died and her story was told. Now aware, what can we do?
Submitted photo Heroin was not among the problems the grandparents who raised Ashley Sims, above, were prepared for, and they have since come to believe that it is a silent epidemic among young people. Purchase photo reprints »
Ashley Sims would have turned 24 on May 15; instead, she has been dead for two years, following a rapid fall into addiction. Attempts she made to save herself were thwarted by the lack of available help.
Ashley died Dec. 11, 2012, of a heroin overdose. She wasn’t the first young person lost to an overdose in Franklin County and she wasn’t the last, but her death made the problem public knowledge.
Afraid heroin addiction had become a silent epidemic, Ashley’s grandmothers, Karen Sims and Paula Seyword, named the drug in her obituary and reached out with her story, featured prominently in The Recorder’s first special series of stories about the local heroin problem, published one year ago.
The opioid addiction problem has since broken out into the public consciousness, but the problem has continued to grow and the lack of resources remains a serious public policy debate.
Her family says Ashley looked for support groups she felt she might be able to relate to, groups for young drug addicts. She went to the emergency room twice because there was no detox facility available in the county. She found help the first time in the hospital’s mental health wing and was sent on her way the second time with only a list of phone numbers to call.
Her grandmothers still speak of this with surprise and anger. Karen Sims is now part of a group — with doctors, the hospital president and others — working to address addiction treatment in the health care community.
Karen and Paula raised Ashley from the age of 9 in their Leyden home and now are casting about for help themselves, looking for other parents and guardians to grieve with because there is an added dimension to their grief experience — blame and stigma.
A promising beginning
Ashley worked with the nonprofit City Year Corps in Boston for a year after high school, helping in a third-grade inner city classroom.
She enjoyed the experience and her grandmothers encouraged her to look outside the county for work after she returned.
But a smiling picture of Ashley in her City Year jacket, given to this newspaper by her grandmothers, prompted a response from a City Year spokesman demanding the picture be taken off The Recorder website.
Such is the stigma of heroin addiction, shame that keeps the disease of addiction hidden in the way that AIDS and even cancer were in past decades.
On the national stage, the death of a celebrity actor — Philip Seymour Hoffman — uncorked a flood of attention and increasing discussion of the disease, as deaths mounted. Meanwhile, advances in some areas have been made, while others are in the same place they were when Ashley was fruitlessly seeking help.
Now aware of the problem, what can we do?
“There is attention in the national news, and you have governors declaring states of emergency, the Vermont governor and (Mass. Gov. Deval) Patrick, so now you’ll see if they can walk their talk and get money behind it, because that’s really what it’s about now,” Paula said.