Deaths from opioid drug overdoses have hit epidemic proportions nationwide. In Minnesota, the struggle with addiction to prescription painkillers and illegal opioid drugs has left families, friends and communities across the state grieving deaths that could have been prevented. Rita Rogers is one of them.
Rita Rogers still gets bills in the mail from the last treatment center her daughter was ordered to attend. She said they want thousands of dollars for the treatment program they kicked her out of.
"I've got a whole stack of them in my purse. I don't even open them," she said. "I feel like writing back, 'Return to sender. She's dead. Thank you.'"
Tiffany Lynn Jackson died on July 2, 2015. She was 26 years old and five months pregnant.
"I just want everybody to know that she was well-loved. She was a beautiful person," Rita said. "She was trying to get clean. And that we miss her. A lot."
'Mom, I want to come home'
Tiffany grew up between south Minneapolis and the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, where her grandmother, mother, brother and her son still live. Rita describes Tiffany as a happy child, who was always taking care of her younger brother.
When Tiffany gave birth to a son at 18, she was excited to be a mother.
But Tiffany got in a car crash soon after that and broke her back and neck. Rita said it was the first time she'd been prescribed opioid painkillers.
• Explained: Minnesota's opioid epidemic
"It started from the pain meds," she said of Tiffany's addiction.
Rita and her family nursed Tiffany back to health. She even learned to walk again. But after the prescriptions ran out, she kept buying pain pills on the street.
After a cousin died in a head-on collision with a semi truck, Rita said, the grief drove Tiffany to ask another family member who used heroin to shoot up with her. That was the first time Tiffany used a needle.
Rita and Tiffany's grandmother tried repeatedly to get her into drug treatment.
"She wouldn't come around us when she was on it. She would come home to sleep. To eat. To get some clean clothes, whatever. But she was mostly gone," Rita said. "I would have to go pick her up in Minneapolis. I would have to go pick her up in St. Cloud. All over. I'd have to go pick her up. 'Mom, I want to come home.'"
Tiffany had a long rap sheet, mostly minor traffic or drug possession charges. Everything else, her mom said, was tied to her drug problem: credit card fraud, shoplifting, giving the cops a fake name.
"Trying to get, keep her high going. I've seen her at her worst on it," Rita said. "She's come to me and she's withdrawing from heroin really bad, and she's like, 'Mom, there's bugs crawling on me, help me.' And I'm sitting on a computer looking for what would help her."
It was those petty crimes that got Tiffany sent to a court-ordered treatment program in St. Cloud. Two weeks before she died, Tiffany was kicked out for cursing out an employee.
Rita said Tiffany was put on a medicine called Suboxone at the treatment center. It's used to replaces opioid cravings. When she left treatment, Tiffany lost access to the prescribed medication, so the urge to to find heroin returned.
"When they kicked her out, they just kicked her out with her bags. They didn't give her no Suboxone or nothing," Rita said. "She was five months pregnant. I don't know how or why they would do that."
Rita drove down to St. Cloud and picked Tiffany up behind a Dairy Queen. Her parole officer started the paperwork for an arrest warrant, for violating the court's order that she get treatment.
Two weeks later, as Tiffany waited for a ride to turn herself in for the probation violation, she got hold of some heroin. No one was there to wake her up when she overdosed. Her unborn baby died with her.
'Victim of a failed system'Tiffany's mom wonders why her daughter's parole officer let her walk out of his office without putting her in jail. She said he told Tiffany the paperwork for her arrest warrant wasn't done yet.
"Her being in jail was the only time I felt she was safe, that she wasn't out here using," Rita said. "I knew it was going to be prison, or I was going to bury her."
When Tiffany was in jail or treatment, she'd call her mother and tell her, "''Mom, I can smell grandma.' Or 'Mom, I had a dream about grandma.'"
Rita would respond, "'She's there with you,'" letting her know that Tiffany's great-grandmother was with her in spirit.
Now, when Tiffany appears in her family's and friend's dreams, Rita said, they often see an older woman with her who she thinks is the girl's great-grandma. That gives the family some comfort, but losing Tiffany, Rita said, is going to be "hurting for a long time."
Tiffany's brother, Curtis Rogers, dreams about his sister, too. Tiffany never wanted that life, he said. He saw her trying to come back to the family.
"Before she had her first son, she told me she was going to be a good mom," he said. "I tried to talk to her. 'Remember what you said.' She said, 'I know, brother. I know.'"
Curtis said his sister's death led some in the family to take refuge in alcohol or drugs. But he's found solace in his Ojibwe culture, which he plans to share with Tiffany's 8-year-old son.
He agrees that his sister shouldn't have been kicked out of treatment, especially while pregnant. He said Tiffany "was a victim of a failed system."
"I always imagined my sister getting better, and growing old together, watching our kids," Curtis said, his 2-year-old son playing on his lap. "My son should be playing with her baby, he'd be crawling around almost now. It's a big loss. And it hurts a lot for my family."
• Opioid overdose, addiction: Get help
MPR News reporter John Enger contributed to this report.