CLEARFIELD – No mother should have to write an obituary for her daughter. But when Michelle Schwartzmier put pen to paper to memorialize her daughter Casey one last time, she had no idea she was about to change lives within a schism of society most people would rather forget about.
Schwartzmier spoke to about 40 people Thursday at the Clearfield Area Junior-Senior High School, as part of the school district’s ongoing efforts to address the growing drug problem in the community.
The district held the first outreach program in the spring. Superintendent Terry Struble said while the focus of the spring program was to raise awareness of the growing drug problem in the area, Thursday’s program was designed to focus on how drug abuse effects the lives of the addict and the families.
The program also focused on treatment programs and help that are available. Struble said Schwartzmier had been to the school last week speaking to the students and he was hoping those attending the program Thursday would benefit as much as the students had.
Schwartzmier said her daughter Casey was only 20 years old when she died of a drug overdose nine months ago.
“Everyone talks about the statistics and the numbers,” Schwartzmier said. “Well I’m here to put a face with the numbers. “She (Casey) mattered, she was a person, not just a number and she was loved.”
Schwartzmier said 170 people die every day from drugs, and “Number 12 that day was Casey.”
“She was an average kid from a middle-income family. She was a cheerleader, she was a competitive dancer. She became an addict and it all fell apart.”
She said her daughter was no different than many of the kids she met last week at the school. Schwartzmier said drug addiction does not target people based on their race, or sex or income.
She said many people ask if she were divorced and if Casey came from a broken home. Schwartzmier said she and her husband have been married for 25 years.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “The demographics do not matter. My daughter was outspoken, she was outgoing [and] she was on Facebook all the time. She loved the Steelers and pierogies and put too much ranch dressing on everything.
“She was young when she started (drugs) and it just took hold of her.”
Schwartzmier said her daughter was exposed to the same drug awareness programs many school students participate in.
She said the schools made a lot of efforts with the programs and that Casey had the D.A.R.E T-shirts and even a D.A.R.E teddy bear.
“’Just Say No,’ doesn’t work,” Schwartzmier said. “We need to quit giving them teddy bears and give them reality. We need to speak out. We need to tell them if you start this, you will die.
“It’s not too harsh, it’s reality. Maybe if someone had said that to my daughter, she wouldn’t have died.”
Schwartzmier said Casey’s addiction started at a very young age. Like most teens, Casey experimented with alcohol and marijuana, before moving on to prescription pills and eventually to heroin.
“She stole a beer at a slumber party,” Schwartzmier said. “We dismissed it as teens being teens. I took her phone away, but maybe I should’ve done more. Maybe I should’ve talked to her more.”
Schwartzmier said she hadn’t realized just how serious her daughter’s drug problem had become until she received a text message from Casey’s boyfriend warning her that Casey was thinking about trying heroin.
She said the boyfriend knew Casey would be angry, but Schwartzmier said he was desperate to help Casey, as he was addicted to heroin himself.
“He was the only person who had been honest with me,” she said. “I talked to Casey and she denied everything. Maybe I should have pushed harder.”
Schwartzmier said after Casey’s death, people who had known her and the family had said they had seen Casey using drugs but were afraid to say something because they were afraid the family would become angry or upset.
“That may be the reaction at first, but maybe if someone had said something sooner, we could have done more,” Schwartzmier said. “It takes a village and you’re the village. Help each other out. You may see something that others have missed.”
Schwartzmier said when Casey turned 16, she finally came clean about her drug use and the family worked hard to get Casey help.
She had gone to therapists and into rehabilitation programs but, according to Schwartzmier, something would happen to pull Casey back into addiction.
“It just wasn’t enough,” she said. “If love alone could’ve saved my daughter, she would still be here.”
About a week before her death, Schwartzmier said Casey found an obituary for a young man who had also died from drug addiction.
The obituary said openly that the young man had struggled with addiction and it had a profound impact on Casey.
“She (Casey) said to me ‘if I die, will you write my obituary like this. Will you tell people what really happened?’ I didn’t want to have that conversation, but she said ‘tell them my story. When I read this, I feel like I’m not alone.’ She made me promise to tell her story,” Schwartzmier said.
On the night she died, Schwartzmier said Casey was getting ready to go to a rehabilitation facility. Schwartzmier said it was very difficult to find a facility for Casey.
A facility had been found, but on Jan. 1, Schwartzmier said her health insurance coverage changed and they received a phone call that Casey’s place at the facility had been filled due to the change in insurance.
The family continued working and found another facility for Casey, but it was too late.
“It’s not like people think. By the time the addiction takes hold, the person isn’t taking the drug to get high any more, they’re taking it to keep from getting sick (from withdrawal),” Schwartzmier said.
She said she had watched Casey suffer through the pain and sickness of withdrawal symptoms and she believes on the night of her death, Casey had taken the drugs to keep from getting sick. She had been packing her belongings to leave for rehab in the morning.
“I found her body in the same room where we had tea parties and where we read bedtime stories. I found her overdosed beside her packed bags,” Schwartzmier said.
An autopsy showed that the drug Casey had taken was not heroin at all, it was fentanyl.
“They (the dealer) had given her almost pure fentanyl. There was only a tiny amount in her system, but (because it was fentanyl) it would’ve been enough to kill 10-15 men. Things are so different now, because they’re (drug dealers) mixing fentanyl with everything. So those kids playing around on a Friday night really have no idea what they’re actually getting,” Schwartzmier said.
In accordance with Casey’s wishes, Schwartzmier wrote an obituary which spoke openly about Casey’s addiction and her struggle to get help. The obituary was posted on Facebook and it soon went viral.
Schwartzmier said she has been receiving messages from people in Argentina, Pakistan and everywhere in between. She was contacted by People Magazine and the White House.
“When they ask me to speak, I tell my story, but they’re not the people I want to hear me. I want you to hear me. I want those kids I talked to last week to hear me. My family was devastated long before she died. I became addicted to trying to save my daughter. I did it 24/7 and we lost her anyway,” Schwartzmier said.
She said she wears a bracelet, which belonged to Casey, and it is engraved with the phrase: “Everything happens for a reason” which gives her strength to tell Casey’s story.
“I get calls from addicts who say they have Casey’s obituary and that’s what keeps them going another day,” she said. “There’s such a stigma on addicts and their families and it shouldn’t be that way.
“People reach out to me because they’re too full of shame to speak out. She (Casey) had so much potential. Get help for yourself; get help for the person you love. This can be your kid and this can happen to your family.”
Clearfield Borough Police Sergeant Nathan Curry spoke briefly about the drug problems in Clearfield and the surrounding areas. He said it is critical for parents to talk to their kids so they don’t feel “too embarrassed” or ashamed to get help if they have a problem.
He said it’s important for parents to know what to look for and to educate themselves about what types of programs are available not only for the addicts themselves, but also for the families.
Lexi Miller, Amanda Abawi and Jamie Maguire of Community Guidance Center talked about the programs their organization offers. They said Community Guidance Center has offices in both Clearfield and DuBois.
The center can help the families get counseling and to navigate the ins and outs of insurance coverage, assistance for those without coverage and other services to help with recovery.
Miller said they are presently working with the school district to provide a drug and alcohol counselor within the school for students in grades 7-12.
She stressed that while the in-school services are not in place yet, parents and students can still get help at the center’s offices.
Casey Marie Schwartzmier, age 20, passed away on Sunday, January 15, 2017, of an accidental heroin overdose after a long brave battle with addiction.
She is survived by her parents, Richard and Michelle (Waldorf) Schwartzmier, her brother Eric Schwartzmier, grandparents Mary (Planic) and the late Richard F. Schwartzmier, Jerome B. Waldorf, and many aunts, uncles and cousins.
Casey never wanted to be defined only by her addiction and mistakes; she was so much more than that.
She made it clear if she was to ever pass as a result of it, she wanted people to know the truth with the hope that honesty about her death could help break the stigma about addicts, and get people talking about the problem of addiction that is taking away so many young lives.
Casey was a beautiful, intelligent child of the suburbs who fell into its grip. It can happen to anyone. She was feisty and outspoken but would do anything for anyone and always lit up the room with her smile and sense of humor even while struggling with her demons.
She loved her family deeply, wanted to adopt every animal she saw, and play with every child she came across.
Casey believed strongly in second chances, maybe because she craved another chance for herself and other addicts, so she donated her life saving organs to give someone else a second chance at life.
That was Casey … this amazing woman should be remembered for this and not her mistakes.
Casey believed that hiding her cause of death would help no one, but if her story could help just one addict push even harder for another day of sobriety, encourage an active user to choose recovery, or shine a light on this horrible epidemic, then it would be worth coming out of the shadows.
She was very open about her struggles and now is not the time to change that. This strong attitude with a fierce drive and loving beautiful heart that wanted to help other addicts even in death is one of the many things that she can be defined by, not her addiction.
Casey wanted to live. She had dreams of a future career, children of her own, and fought hard all the way until the end, one day away from entering rehab, but couldn’t break the chains of this demon that’s wiping out a generation.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It will take hold and destroy anyone in its path including the families and people who love them. Addiction hides in the faces of everyday people all around us.
Casey isn’t just another statistic or just “another one gone too soon,” she was a great heart with a bright future and a gift that the world lost and can never be replaced.
So the best way to honor Casey is for people who read this or knew her to think twice before you judge an addict.
Friends received on Friday, January 20, 2017, from 1:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. at the LAWRENCE T. MILLER FUNERAL HOME, INC., 460 Lincoln Avenue, Bellevue.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held in the Incarnation of the Lord Church on Saturday, January 21, 2017, at 10:00 a.m.
Interment will follow in St. Nicholas Cemetery, Reserve Township.