Updated 11:45, Thursday
On Sunday morning, Oak Bluffs resident Christine Todd, desperate and out of ideas, turned to gofundme.com, a crowdfunding website, to raise $40,000 to send her daughter Catherine “Cat” Todd, 22, to a long-term inpatient drug and alcohol treatment facility. The post, titled “Please Save My Daughter,” included a picture of her smiling, bright-eyed daughter from a Christmas past.
“My daughter Catherine needs help,” Ms. Todd wrote in her post. “She is one of many victims to this opiate epidemic. I live in fear every minute of every day that she will be the next to die from this disease. Her insurance will get her into the bare minimum of facilities that may do more harm than good. She is ready to commit to treatment, but I do not have the money to get her into a facility that could truly save her life.”
Contributions poured in. With over 500 donations, in amounts ranging from $5 to $2,000, Ms. Todd reached her goal within 24 hours. As of Wednesday afternoon, 550 donors had contributed just over $44,500. Along with the money came many messages of support, and offerings of prayers.
“What is amazing to me is the incredible support I feel from you!” Ms. Todd posted on the website on Tuesday in response. “My body is aching now with the emotion I feel coming from all of you. I am so grateful and hopeful for Catherine, thank you.”
Ms. Todd’s strategy elicited a gamut of responses on Islanders Talk, a popular Facebook site with more than 6,400 subscribers, regularly used by Islanders to air issues ranging from the political to the personal. Some commenters were highly critical of her for taking her family struggle public. Some thought she was being too indulgent by raising money for “high class detox.”
One commenter, who identified herself as Moira Claire-Kateri, and claimed to be her daughter’s best friend, accused Ms. Todd of exploiting her daughter.
The discussion also became a forum where Islanders in recovery publicly shared their stories. One person, referring to the multiple overdoses reported in the past week in Oak Bluffs alone, wrote, “How many kids have to die before it is acceptable to talk about?”
A mother wrote, “Don’t judge — join. It’s this mother’s right to try what she can.”
In a telephone conversation with The Times on Thursday morning, Ms. Todd said her daughter checked into detox at Gosnold late Wednesday night.
A long struggle
Ms. Todd is active in Island affairs, and familiar with the public spotlight. She’s the executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association (OBA), and a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and the Dukes County Commission (DCC). Named chairman of the DCC in January, she said her focus would be a countywide effort to address opiate addiction on the Island.
Speaking to The Times by phone on Monday morning, Ms. Todd talked openly about the damage the disease of addiction has wrought on her family, about the many solutions that have been tried and have failed over the years, and what led to her making this very public plea. She said she hadn’t spoken with her daughter since starting the crowdfunding campaign, but it was clear from her texts that she was upset. “She gets upset with me because I tell people what’s going on in my life,” she said. “My position has always been, If you’re proud of what you’re doing, then why would you have a problem with me sharing?” she said. “If you change your behavior, you won’t have such a big problem with your mother having such a big mouth.”
Ms. Todd said she had just gotten off the phone with Gosnold, the closest inpatient detox facility to the Vineyard, in Falmouth.
“I was begging for a bed, but they don’t have any,” she said. “They said they’d let me know when something opened up. I just want to get her safe right now, then I’ll figure out the rest.”
Ms. Todd said Catherine’s struggle with substances began in high school and has continued unabated, except for 100 days of clean time she had after her last inpatient rehab.
“Right before she turned 18, I signed her up for an Outward Bound program, to get her out of here for a month and into some serious physical activity,” she said. “But because she knew she was going away, her drug use escalated. I found her at the beach one morning, high as a kite.”
Even though Catherine denied she was using, a drug test at the hospital revealed Oxycontin, cocaine, and alcohol in her bloodstream. “They got her into Brockton for two weeks, then to Alabama for Outward Bound, and she stayed sober for 100 days,” Ms. Todd said. “It’s been downhill ever since.” Ms. Todd believes Catherine started using heroin about 18 months ago.
“It’s been a long struggle,” she said.
Kindness of a stranger
Ms. Todd said that a Facebook message she received from a stranger last Saturday prompted her social media campaign.
“He said how frightened he was for my daughter,” she said. “He’d interviewed her for a job, and when he checked her references, everybody told him not to hire her and that she had a drug problem. He called her for a second interview, just an opportunity to reach out and try to help her. She didn’t show up, and he called her and he was extremely alarmed at how she sounded on the phone, so he reached out to me.”
Ms. Todd called a number of people for advice — Hazel Teagan, substance abuse counselor at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital; people she’s met in opiate awareness events; even parents who’ve lost children — for advice on how to handle the situation.
One piece of advice was to “section” her daughter, referring to a Section 35 commitment. Viewed by addiction specialists as a last resort, Section 35 is when an addict’s family, a doctor, or a local law enforcement officer believe there’s an imminent threat of serious harm to that person or to others, and enables them to request that the court put that person into involuntary inpatient rehabilitation for up to 90 days.
Ms Todd said she had “sectioned” her daughter a few months ago, and even though the judge on the Island approved it, the physician in Falmouth did not believe her daughter was a threat to herself or others. “The doctor called me and asked if she had ever overdosed, and I said, ‘I don’t know, she doesn’t live with me, but I’ve seen her unable to sit up or hold a pen.’ They asked if she ever threatened people, and I said no, but I said she’s taking heroin every day, is that not a danger to herself? The woman was literally debating me on the phone. So she was on the next boat back, and getting high that night.”
Ms. Todd said that initially she had decided to “section” Catherine on Monday morning. But she woke up in a panic on Sunday, and decided to take a different approach, in part because if she sectioned her daughter, she would have no control over where she wound up.
“She’s been in treatment where she feared for her life,” she said. “Some places don’t differentiate the hardcore criminals from the addicts. In Brockton she slept on a mat on the floor. Trauma isn’t a good start to recovery.”
Ms. Todd said she had a glimmer of hope when Catherine admitted herself to Gosnold for a seven-day detox in January. But the glimmer quickly faded.
“She came back and tried to get into Vineyard House, and they wouldn’t let her in because they said she hadn’t been sober long enough and she didn’t have a job,” Ms. Todd said. “Their advice was go to meetings, get rid of her boyfriend, get a job, and to come back in a month and we’ll talk.”
Ms. Todd said she told her daughter she could stay with her as long as she went to 12-step meetings.
“Pretty soon, she’d tell me she was going to New Paths, but it was obvious she wasn’t,” Mr. Todd said.
Attempts to get Catherine an appointment with a psychiatrist, who could possibly prescribe Suboxone, an opioid inhibitor, were also difficult. “She tried to get to see a psychiatrist, and they said it would be two weeks. When these windows open, they slam shut pretty quickly. If you have to wait two weeks for an appointment and you’re not on medication like Suboxone, that window can shut pretty fast.”
Ms. Todd said she didn’t have a particular facility in mind when she came up with the $40,000 goal. “I was going to put down $30,000, and thought why not put down 40 and just see?” she said. “She’s going to need very long-term care. This is a start.”
Ms. Todd said that part of her motivation is pure desperation, and part is her desire to bring the conversation about addiction into the light.
“When you’re desperate you try just about anything,” she said. “When people open up publicly, it’s usually after somebody’s died. This shows you how much people want to help. I think we need to bring the conversation out in the open. There’s still so much stigma about it all.”
During the course of the conversation, Ms. Todd’s voice shifted into business mode when a phone rang and she took a call on another line. Returning to the conversation, she apologized for the interruption.
“I’m sorry, I always answer my phone,” she said. “Every time it rings, I wonder if it’s bad news about my daughter.”