On September 1, 2014, I drove my oldest son in an overloaded car to Worcester State University. I had never felt such pride in my 18 years of parenthood. I dreamt of this milestone. For months, I planned, shopped and looked toward an incredibly bright future.
I was certain that I had thought of everything, and my biggest concern was whether or not I was going to embarrass Emmett at drop-off by bursting into tears. (The kids have always called me a marshmallow because of how easily I cry). I made sure my baby boy had a fully unpacked and set up room, took the obligatory pictures and made it all the way back to his dad’s truck before the first tear fell.
They weren’t tears of sadness; they were tears of pride. Complete and utter pride for the path my son was blazing for himself. Emmett’s hard work in high school had earned him a full ride to college. My son, the child that came into this world eight weeks early and made me the mother I had always dreamed of being, was spreading his wings and making his way in the world. What an incredible new beginning this was going to be…or so I thought.
Within six weeks of beginning school, Emmett was introduced to heroin at a party. That was the beginning of the end.
Before Emmett was to come home for Thanksgiving, I received an ambulance bill in the mail. Little did I know that he had been taken out of his college dorm room by paramedics and transported to a local hospital. After all, he was 18 – an adult. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) prohibited the college from telling me, and the emergency room’s interpretation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prevented them from letting me know.
When I confronted him, Emmett said that he’d simply passed out in his dorm room from stress and hit his head. He was embarrassed to tell me. Naively, I believed him. If it was something worse, someone would have told me, right?!? And certainly, if it was something of concern, the college would have reached out to me, wouldn’t they?
In all of my pre-college planning, I had never thought to have Emmett sign a FERPA, to allow me access to his college information. While running through my extensive shopping and packing list, I hadn’t considered a power of attorney allowing me to act on Emmett’s behalf.
Over the next few months, I gradually learned about Em’s heroin use disorder. I tried endlessly to intervene, although there was very little I could do to an 18-year-old not living under my roof. When he finally agreed to enter a detox in April of 2015, I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
After completing five days of detox, the center recommended that I place Emmett in a 30-day treatment program. Unfortunately, my insurance company did not agree. In their eyes, Emmett hadn’t “failed at detox” yet, and, therefore, it was not a necessity that he receive further in-patient treatment. This was followed by another detox stint, intensive outpatient therapy (that led to more drug connections than solutions) and mismanaged medication-assisted treatment (MAT). I can only imagine how life would look today if he received appropriate treatment and/or if MAT was administered according to guidelines.
To make matters worse, after Emmett’s fatal overdose on April 20, 2016, I discovered that he had been seen at the hospital and revived with Narcan at least SEVEN times over the previous year. Because of a misinterpretation of HIPAA, there were SEVEN missed opportunities to intervene and save this young man’s life. What would life be like today if I had the chance to intervene and address Emmett’s heroin use disorder during those crucial moments?