SIDNEY — Brittany Van Horn, formerly of Sidney, is a bright/blue-eyed mother of four, whose glowing skin and shiny blonde hair exudes health. Her youngest child, Serenity, is also a bright-eyed and healthy one-year-old. But this was not always the case.
If you met Brittany a little over a year ago, you may not recognize her today. That is because she struggled with opioid and methamphetamine addiction for years prior to Serenity’s birth, including throughout pregnancy. As a result, Serenity was born in December 2016 as one among the growing number of babies born addicted to drugs.
The number of babies born at Wilson Health that were exposed to drugs in 2017 nearly doubled at 64, compared to the 34 babies born exposed to drugs in 2016, the Shelby County Drug Task Force reports. This means the mother tested positive for drugs during pregnancy.
Also, statistics from the Shelby County jail revealed that in 2017, there were 12 pregnant incarcerated females who were using heroin or related drugs.
“For most people, if they like smoking weed, or snorting coke here and there, or getting drunk, and they find out they are pregnant, they can just completely quit. But someone who is heavily addicted, cannot.
“What it really boils down to is if you want (to get sober). You have to want it,” Brittany said. “And at that time (in August) I still didn’t even want it. I was doing it because it is what my family wanted me to do.”
Brittany said she was already high on Meth when found out she was pregnant in May 2016 and began “freaking out.”
She had been awake for five to seven days straight doing the drug, but said to herself, ‘Oh, I’ll quit tomorrow.’ “— Yeah right. I said that in May, and here it was August, and I was still saying, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow. There is no tomorrow.”
When asked what her thought process was when using while pregnant, Brittany said she “feared being dope-sick more than death.”
“I knew that it was affecting the baby, but I also justified it in sick ways, like, ‘Well, the baby is going to go through withdrawals too (if she stopped using), so why not. I need to help myself feel better. The baby will feel better too. — And the baby could die,’” she said. “I always justified it in my mind in some way or another.”
After meeting Sidney Police Resource Officer Mike McRill, who works to fight Sidney’s epidemic, Brittany called him late one night for help. McRill then dropped her off at Miami Valley Hospital’s (MVH) Women’s Berry Center in Dayton, which operates a program for expecting mothers who struggle with addiction called Promise to Hope.
According to Promise to Hope’s web page, the program which started in 2015, “provides medication-assisted treatment for the moms, and withdrawal treatment for infants to improve health outcomes for newborns exposed to opiate drugs during the fetal period.”
Brittany admits that she struggled to stay with the program on her first try. She noted that even after a full month of being clean, her body and brain was still so exhausted and foggy that she still wasn’t thinking clearly.
“I went (to Promise to Hope) in August; got out in October, and got out started using meth again, and so mind was thinking, ‘It’s not heroin, it’s OK.’ So then, obviously I went back to using heroin again. And then in November, I ended up back to Promise to Hope and stayed until Serenity was born.”
Brittany said she usually used meth and heroin together. Methamphetamine is a stimulant, which Brittany said makes the user feel anxious and have a strong desire to focus on something. So as a method to “level herself out” from being too “up,” she would use heroin to “come down” some, because heroin is a depressant.
She returned to Promise to Hope because she “wanted to give (Serenity) a chance. I did not want her to be addicted to heroin. I researched and seen some of those babies, and I just couldn’t. … ”
“Brittany is an absolutely normal story for an addict. If we believe that just getting services one time is going to end it and we are going to write the happily ever after at the end of the story at that point, that would be incorrect. Relapse is not an uncommon occurrence among addicts,” Sidney Community Resource Police Officer Mike McRill said about Brittany, who is featured in the video, “The Impact of One — Ideas in Motion.”
The video was produced last year by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office after McRill received the Distinguished Law Enforcement Community Service Award. Sidney Addict Assistance Team, or S.A.A.T., which McRill heads up, aims to contact users within a week of an overdose to connect them to services available in Shelby County.
The Shelby County Department of Job and Family Services reports from January to June 30, 2017, 76 percent of the department’s newly opened cases involved drug addicted households. In that time frame, 37 percent of investigations of possible child abuse or neglect involved a parent who used drugs. The department’s statistics also show that 67 percent of displaced children is drug related.
Brittany said after her third overdose, she finally knew “something had to give.”
“Something hit me like, ‘I’m going to leave my kids without a mother. And my mom and dad are going to bury me. My grandma is going to bury her first grandchild. … And I just got tired. You just got to get fed up and get sick and tired. You got to hit rock bottom. You got to be done. I got sick and tired of selling myself, lowing my standards. I had no values, no morals, no nothing,” Brittany said bluntly.
Now, at 27 and after her fourth child, Serenity’s birth, and struggling with heroin use since 19, Brittany finally turned the corner. She proudly admits she has been sober for over a year. And although she only recently gained unsupervised visitation, her relationship with her girls is good. She said she takes recovery one day one at a time, or “even one second at a time.”
“The life I live now, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I would never go back to (her old life). I wake up every morning thankful that I’m not dope-sick. That is the worst feeling in the world. I don’t have to wake up and stress about money or dope or where I’m going to get it,” Brittany said. “This life I live now is nothing compared to the life I lived a year ago.”
Brittany wants to share her story in the hope of helping at least one person struggling with addiction. Her goal is to become independent with her own place and one day become a recovery councilor.
“If you don’t (get help) for yourself, at least do it for your baby,” Brittany said of advice for other pregnant addicts.
Expecting mothers with an opioid or heroin addiction can reach Promise to Hope at Miami Valley Hospital, 1 Wyoming St., Dayton, at 937-208-4093.
Reach the writer at 937-538-4823.