Medina family fights heroin epidemic after losing daughter to overdose

Published: Dec. 1, 2016 at 3:15 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2016 at 3:41 AM EST
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Alyssa Apostolakis was just 21 years old when she died. (Source: WOIO)
Alyssa Apostolakis was just 21 years old when she died. (Source: WOIO)

MEDINA, OH (WOIO) - The fight against heroin continues in northeast Ohio. This year alone in Cuyahoga County, there have been 446 overdose deaths from heroin, fentanyl or a combination of the two.

And that number is expected to grow.

It's not just Cuyahoga County fighting the problem -- cities and suburbs across northeast Ohio have been hit, too. A Medina family is fighting back against heroin after they lost their daughter to addiction when she went off to college.

They did everything they could to get her help, but in the end, the addiction was too destructive.

Alyssa Apostolakis had just turned 21 when she passed away. Her family sent her to detox and recovery programs and they thought she was getting better. Now they're using their pain to help other families who are suffering.

In March 2015, Lea Heidman got that dreaded phone call from police that is every parent's worst nightmare.

"He said 'Your daughter's deceased,'" Heidman said. "I pretty much just dropped to the ground ... We weren't expecting this, we thought she was doing better."

From miles away, things seemed almost back to normal for her daughter Alyssa, a sophomore at college in North Carolina.

"She was very creative, beautiful, energetic," Heidman said.

Alyssa started using opioids before she got to college. When she met her boyfriend at school, she got hooked on heroin.

"We got the call she was using and we were there the next day," Heidman said.

Alyssa went into a 90-day wilderness detox program her freshman year. After that doctor visits, meetings and drug tests became a part of her college life. Alyssa's parents thought she was doing better, especially since she kept passing the drug tests. But it turns out she was falsifying those tests to appear clean.

"Evidently we must have been naive, but we wanted to believe our daughter," Heidman said.

They saw Alyssa during the holidays and did not see any signs of drug abuse. But in March, Alyssa overdosed on heroin.

Since her death, her stepfather Brian Malone says they've learned so much more about addiction.

"I equate it to a little devil on your shoulder, just sitting there whispering to use-- use it will make you feel better, just use. And they can't turn it off," he said.

Alyssa's dream was to help children with drug addictions just like her. So her parents started a foundation called Fighting for Alyssa.

"It's not an epidemic anymore, it's an emergency in our state and it's out of control," Malone said. "Maybe we can help someone else and not have them face what we did, getting that call saying your child is no longer alive."

Fighting for Alyssa raises awareness about heroin addiction here in Northeast Ohio. They also raise money through fundraisers to give grants to local organizations fighting the epidemic.

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