Nikki Christmas had turned her life round — her family members may all see how nicely she was doing.
She had been hooked on tablets, however with help from her mom, she sought assist going via restoration on the Religion Residence in Greenwood. After getting clear, she began working there and helped different ladies in restoration hold tabs on their drugs and appointments.
She had discovered her objective serving to different ladies who have been getting the identical assist she had sought. She referred to as them “my ladies.” At house, she was constructing a greater life for her two younger kids.
However when a difficult time left her hurting, she tried to self-medicate once more, her mom mentioned. She purchased a capsule and took it sitting in her automotive in a parking zone on Calhoun Street.
“She didn’t stand an opportunity when she took that,” mentioned Norma McCutcheon, her mom. “She didn’t stand an opportunity.”
Nikki’s physique was discovered the following morning, nonetheless within the driver’s seat and holding her cellphone. The capsule she took contained fentanyl, a strong artificial opiate utilized in anesthesia. The drug might be deadly even in small doses, and when administered incorrectly, it’s going to gradual the physique’s capabilities down a lot the center and lungs cease working.
Nikki was discovered lifeless Nov. 7, 2017, one in all 16 individuals who died that 12 months of an unintended drug overdose.
“Nikki isn’t just one other statistic,” Norma mentioned. “There are such a lot of different ‘Nikkis’ on the market that deserve a second likelihood for a greater future.”
Greater than a quantity“Nikki, she was one in all a form. She was very good as a toddler, and really curious,” Norma mentioned. “She’d know the way one thing labored, however she all the time needed to know why.”
All through faculty, Nikki was in gifted and gifted lessons, and he or she graduated from highschool a 12 months early with scholarships for faculty. Norma mentioned her daughter was a caring, loving woman, who dreamt of getting a white picket fence in her future. Like many teenagers, she obtained in some hassle with pals who experimented with alcohol and marijuana, however for probably the most half, her faculty years went easily.
After highschool, Nikki married and had two kids, Blaise and Sophie. Norma mentioned Blaise was born on her birthday, and Nikki joked that nobody may ever high that birthday current.
There have been individuals in Nikki’s life, Norma mentioned, who enabled her to additional use alcohol and marijuana to cope with stressors. Ultimately, this escalated to taking tablets recreationally. Norma tried to intervene, going together with her daughter to rehab and supporting her in efforts to give up.
“I did all the pieces I may consider,” Norma mentioned. “She got here to me at some point and mentioned ‘Mama, I do know I’m going to must make a change. I’m actually embarrassed that I’ve been via rehab and it didn’t robotically repair this.’ I informed her if you’ve reached that time, you’re able to make a change.”
Norma inspired her daughter as she went to the Religion Residence in Greenwood, and went via their eight-week program.
“She was an attractive woman, stunning,” mentioned Aline Barnes, co-founder of the Religion Residence. “When she died, it was such a shock for us, as a result of she was doing so nicely. However it doesn’t take however that one time.”
When Nikki completed this system, she continued working with the Religion Residence. She labored of their Abbeville ladies’s facility, doing clerical work and serving to the ladies who have been coming for assist hold tabs of medical doctors appointments. Norma mentioned Nikki took unimaginable satisfaction in her work — she referred to as the ladies she labored with “my ladies.”
“Nikki actually had an incredible character, and he or she actually loved working with the women over there,” mentioned James Gowan, Religion Residence common supervisor. “Once you’ve obtained 23 women, there’s all the time a necessity.”
Norma noticed a weight lifted from her daughter’s shoulders, and from her personal. Her daughter’s restoration had been taxing, and Norma knew she couldn’t repair Nikki’s issues for her, however she was there each step of the way in which supporting her daughter.
In 2017, Norma was recovering from shoulder surgical procedure at house, and Nikki got here down to go to for her birthday.
“Individuals all the time say this stuff occur to different individuals. I by no means thought it might occur in my household,” Norma mentioned. “That might have been the final time anyone in our household noticed her.”
Norma, who lives in Florence, obtained the telephone name from Greenwood County Coroner Sonny Cox’s workplace.
“That second modified my life,” Norma mentioned. “I informed him no, it’s not Nikki. You need to have made a mistake. It’s not Nikki. I couldn’t grasp it. I couldn’t consider that what he was telling me was actual.”
The main points get hazy for Norma after that. Within the following days, she felt like she was in a nightmare, watching herself undergo the motions of arranging her daughter’s funeral. She skilled panic assaults and chest pains — the medical doctors mentioned it was damaged coronary heart syndrome, a situation that may be introduced on by intervals of excessive stress and emotion.
Norma went via counseling, linked with different individuals who have been experiencing traumatic grief and labored to regain her footing. Her new mission was to hunt some modicum of justice for her daughter.
Pressed tabletsWhen Nikki’s toxicology report got here again, the capsule she had taken was overwhelmingly fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a strong opioid utilized in medical settings for ache reduction, and is commonly related to treating pains from superior phases of most cancers. When used inappropriately, fentanyl might be extremely lethal even in small doses.
Greenwood Police Capt. Jamie Lovett has labored most of his profession in narcotics investigations. When he first noticed fentanyl in the neighborhood, he noticed it as transdermal patches that folks would chew to ingest the drug.
“On the time, it actually wasn’t inflicting as a lot overdoses as it’s now,” he mentioned.
Ultimately, it began coming in as a uncooked, powdered kind, and shortly after drug traffickers started utilizing capsule presses to form fentanyl and heroin into the mildew of pharmaceuticals.
“They have been making an attempt to beat the system by having it, for those who obtained caught, appear like a drugs you might get prescribed,” he mentioned. “Lots of people taking it to start with legitimately thought they have been taking 30-milligram oxycodone.”
Extra of those tablets have been being examined and located to be a mixture of fentanyl and heroin, and overdose deaths skyrocketed, he mentioned. The drug was doing its job, however in elevated doses, this anesthetic was slowing down individuals’s respiration and coronary heart charges a lot their our bodies would shut down. Some individuals would pair these tablets with methamphetamine, to counteract the heart-slowing impact, however this additionally triggered overdoses.
Norma stayed in contact with regulation enforcement as they investigated Nikki’s demise and the distribution and trafficking of the drug that killed her. She was knowledgeable when the one that reportedly offered Nikki the capsule that killed her was arrested and watched as Greenwood’s investigation into native sellers grew right into a multi-agency federal investigation that ended up indicting greater than a dozen individuals in a drug ring that was bringing fentanyl into the state.
Nonetheless, at the same time as Norma was glad to see these accountable face some justice, nobody was dealing with prices in reference to Nikki’s demise. It didn’t really feel like justice to her.
She despatched greater than 60 letters to state, native and even federal authorities officers telling them Nikki’s story, and included images of Nikki so they may see the life snuffed out by this drug.
“Nikki’s image continues to be in my workplace in Columbia immediately,” mentioned state Rep. Ashley Trantham, R-Greenville. “Day in and time out, I’ve seen individuals wrestle with habit and relapse.”
She mentioned Norma’s letter broke her coronary heart, Nikki’s demise impressed her to battle for laws to punish those that promote medication that trigger overdoses. She advocates for laws that may make it attainable to cost sellers with voluntary manslaughter in the event that they knowingly promote medication containing deadly quantities of fentanyl. She additionally mentioned medical doctors ought to reduce on prescribing opioid ache killers when in a position.
Trantham’s personal mom battled prescription drug habit, she mentioned.
“That might have been me, that might have been my mother,” she mentioned. “It’s so robust, it grabs you and it doesn’t care about the place you’re from or how a lot cash you make.”
The lives of these misplaced to overdoses can’t be decreased to mere numbers, and Nikki was one in all 16 individuals who died in Greenwood County of unintended overdoses in 2017, based on a report from the Greenwood County Coroner’s Workplace. Medication have been the main reason behind unintended deaths that 12 months.
As of Dec. 2, the coroner’s workplace had reported 23 confirmed overdose deaths in 2020, with seven circumstances nonetheless pending investigation from the State Regulation Enforcement Division.
Regardless of federal investigators arresting greater than a dozen individuals in reference to trafficking fentanyl into the world, Lovett mentioned the drug is making a comeback.
“Identical to anything, if there’s a foul batch we see it instantly as a result of we’ve a wave of overdose deaths,” he mentioned. “We attempt all the pieces, we get data on it any approach we are able to.”
Whereas officers work to battle for higher remedy for individuals affected by habit and towards the trafficking of probably deadly medication, Norma continues to battle daily to maintain her daughter’s story alive. She’s chronicled a lot of her daughter’s life within the memorabilia she will discover and shares together with her grandchildren what she will of their mom’s love-filled life.
“I can not being to explain the ache and loss we’re having to endure as a household,” she mentioned. “That is Nikki’s story, informed by the individuals who have all the time supported her.”
Contact employees author Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or comply with on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.