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One Choice can Change a Life: Jessica’s Story

One Choice can Change a Life: Jessica’s Story

“In this small town of Sedalia, Mo., heroin was the elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about,” said Wayne Williams, Jessica’s dad. “It’s not just an inner-city drug. It’s here. My daughter died here in this house of a heroin overdose.”

“She was our youngest. I spoiled her. She had a very typical middle-class upbringing, and did the things that kids do,” said Wayne.

“Sometimes I would just sit at the back door and listen to the kids; listen to Jess playing out in the backyard. It was just all those happy sounds of kids playing,” said Debbie Williams, Jessica’s mom.

“First day of sixth grade, we both went to the bus stop and it was literally best friends from that point on. We had all the same classes, and we were on the same team in middle school so it just seemed to fit,” said Ellen Sherman, Jessica’s friend.

“All throughout high school she was extremely sharp,” said Wayne. “She loved to read and journal. She wrote very well and she won awards for her writing. There weren’t enough hours in the day for Jessica because she had so many things she wanted to do and she had so many things going on. We often talked about her becoming an actor.”

“We did plays and one acts together,” said Ellen. “We actually directed our own play in high school together and then we practiced a lot of speech and debate on this stage because we ended up going to nationals our junior year of high school.”

“I knew she started smoking marijuana her junior year in high school. Her brother and sister ratted her out,” said Debbie.

“I didn’t smoke weed in high school. I didn’t really drink in high school, but of course my group of friends were involved in some partying and some smoking,” said Ellen. “It’s common in high school, but for some people it is literally a gateway drug.”

“If I’m smoking marijuana, and all of the sudden it’s not quite doing what it used to do for me then it makes it a little bit easier for me to try something else,” said Sally Gibson, VP of addiction services. “Maybe somebody had a pain pill and I think I can take the pain pill. Or somebody has Xanax and I take the Xanax. But when I stop feeling the high that I used to get then I’m going to want something else to help me feel better.”

“She did admit to me that her boyfriend had introduced heroin to her. He had an injury and had become addicted to heroin,” said Debbie.

“All of us are still a little bit confused as well because we don’t know where that jump happened,” said Ellen. “Jessica used heroin for the first time at a party in college and that’s all I know. Once she moved in with me, things had already been pretty bad. I didn’t really know how bad they were until I got a call from my other roommate.”

“She was crying and upset, but I couldn’t really understand what was going on,” said Ellen. “I rushed home and she came into the room and told me that Jessica was screaming at her boyfriend at the time to shoot her up in the leg. He was refusing and said, ‘all of your veins are totally dead in your arm. We should stop doing this.’ He was trying to convince her to slow things down and she didn’t want to stop. I chose to call Wayne.”

“It scared me to death and it made me very sad,” said Wayne. “Her friends were worried about her and her grades were starting to slip. Her personality was even starting to change. I thought that she was smart enough to overcome this. I thought she was dedicated enough to get away from this. This phase became a true addiction.”

“If I use something and if I’m predisposed I could actually become addicted the first time I use because my body primed and it grabs hold of it, depending on what I use,” said Sally. “Or if I use something long enough I can change my body chemistry and brain chemistry.”

“For the next two and a half years, we fought the fight of heroin addiction,” said Wayne.

“She was what is called a chronic relapser – meaning she would be clean for a while and then she would relapse,” said Debbie. “For Jess and I think for a lot of people the first high is something that addicts chase.”

“The first time I use something, I am never going to feel that same experience again,” said Sally. “So if it was 100 percent, it’s going to be 95 or 92. It’s never going to give me what I felt that first time, which is also why people build up a tolerance and then take more and more trying to get to that initial high.”

“She was constantly on the verge of dying and she knew that,” said Ellen. “But when you are that deep in a heroin addiction I don’t think you have any desire to care.”


February 10, 2016

“I got up around 10 o’clock or so, took a shower, and I thought she was sleeping in so I better go check on her. When I opened the door, she was laying there and there was no doubt that she was dead,” said Wayne.

“She was laying on the bed sideways. I just ran over and picked her up, and said ‘Why? Why Jess?’ I just held her. It was the single worst moment of my life,” said Wayne.

“I just don’t know how anyone can ever imagine their best friend laying in a coffin blue and puffy. She looked fake,” said Ellen. “She had changed so much in so little of time. We all don’t know what we could have done differently. There has been a lot of guilt riding on a lot of us for the last six months, and I don’t think that’s going to change for a while.”

“If you go down this path, for many of you, that’s all you have left,” said Wayne. “You’re not going to have your soul with you when you go because heroin takes it.”

“You know in your gut that it’s not the right thing to do. You know you’re taking a chance. Don’t do it,” said Debbie.

“There’s a life out there and they need to live. Experimenting with drugs is idiotic. The best life that they can live is a life that’s clean. They don’t need anything to enhance these things. They don’t need these drugs. They don’t need to escape. They can escape with a book, they can escape with their friends, and they can talk. They don’t need any of this stuff because if they try it eventually they will need it,” said Wayne.

“Jessica made one choice – one bad choice,” said Wayne. “She put a needle in her arm. “And from then on the choice was no longer hers.”


If you are someone you know is suffering from an addiction and needs help, please contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at