20-year-old Sylva woman the latest fatality in heroin epidemic

Dana Ashe wrote her daughter Danielle’s obituary. It’s been 20 days since the beautiful 20-year-old accidentally overdosed on heroin. (Photo credit: Dana Ashe)

Dana Ashe wrote her daughter Danielle’s obituary. No, it wasn’t easy, but knowing her daughter, and loving her more than anyone else possibly could, she knew she’d be the one who could best memorialize a life that ended too soon.

It’s been 20 days since the beautiful 20-year-old, who worked at the Sylva Starbucks and attended A-B Tech, accidentally overdosed on heroin. Ashe said the overdose came after her daughter's eight-day stay in the Balsam Center in Haywood County to detox from heroin. Danielle had been dealing with a seven-month-long addiction that left her a shadow of her former self, her mom said.

“She was a happy 19-year-old girl working and loving her job and wanting to go to school, to all of a sudden, just staying in her room and sleeping all the time,” Ashe said.

A downhill slide

Dani, as her friends called her, turned 20 three weeks before she died Aug. 10.

Ashe said her daughter loved her job and that having the responsibility of work and getting paid was giving her confidence. Dani slid into drug addiction before, but she had managed to stay clean for two years, until Dec. 31, 2016.

“She told me that’s when she tried heroin for the first time, on New Year’s Eve,” said Ashe.

From there, her daughter began to lose control of her life, becoming a hostage to heroin. Ashe said Dani lost her job at Starbucks in April. Ashe said she tried to do whatever she could to connect and convince her daughter, who had been living with her, to get help.

“She had become argumentative,” said Ashe.

The mother and daughter who were so close were now at odds.

“Those were the signs that told me something was going on,” she said.

A mother and daughter

Social Media posts on Facebook show the love Dani had for her mother.

“Words cannot explain how much I love my Mom,” she wrote with two heart emojis and a kiss emoji along with pictures of her with her mother.

Ashe said they had lived in Waynesville, but in 2015 they left to get her daughter away from a crowd her mom said was using drugs. She moved to Maryville, Tennessee, and then moved to Arden, hoping her daughter could stay sober. But it was there that Dani began hanging again with friends who used drugs. And she started using heroin.

“She was ashamed she had relapsed,” her mom said.

Ashe snapped photos of her daughter on July 4 during a weekend they spent at a lake. The memories of her smiling and laughing that weekend bring a smile, but not for long.

“To lose my only child has been ... I don’t even really know the words to even describe it.”

Trying to get help

Ashe said her daughter voluntarily went into rehab at the beginning of August. She said the plan was for Dani to get out of detox at the Balsam Center and then go into a rehab facility.

“But there wasn’t a bed available. So we were told we needed to call every day for the next week and see if a bed became available.”

But Ashe realizes now her daughter was far from well even after the eight days in detox.

“I don’t think it was enough,” Ashe said.

Ashe said she found a journal entry written by her daughter during her time in the center. Dani wrote she still felt the strong pull for heroin and didn’t realize the addiction was so strong.

Ashe said she always showed her daughter love, but at the same time, she felt helpless about how to save Dani from the addiction that led to her death.

“Drug overdose has become the No. 1 cause of accidental death in our country, and people need to be aware of that,” Ashe said.

The addiction was too strong

Because Dani was 20, she was an adult, and her mother had no legal control over her after she was released from the detox center on Aug. 9. Ashe, who works in Georgia, had her sister-in-law pick Dani up when she was released.

Ashe said her daughter bought heroin that day and overdosed.

“We were texting her, and she suddenly quit answering text messages. She got a hold of what I believe was heroin laced with fentanyl,” Ashe said.

Ashe’s sister-in-law finally got an answer on Dani's phone.

“When she did, the policeman answered and gave us word she had overdosed and was on her way to Mission Hospital. I knew that wasn’t good, because it happened in Haywood County. So, for them to bypass Haywood hospital and go straight to Mission told me this was not good,” Ashe said.

Ashe drove two hours from her home in Georgia to the hospital, but it was too late. Her daughter was too far gone. Ashe said Dani was taken off life support Aug. 10.

“She was reaching out for help the past month. She did want to get clean,” Ashe said.

The difficulty of getting help

Ashe said even to get her daughter into the detox took many calls and screenings. She said their first choice was to go into a center in Black Mountain that was a longer term facility that would be detox followed by rehab. But the administrator helping Ashe get her daughter placed told her the family would have to start all over again with screenings and applications and it could take several more days to get Dani into a detox. So, Ashe said, they decided to put her into the Haywood detox center for the initial seven to 10 day program.

“There needs to be more accessible and affordable care for treatment,” Ashe said.

Western North Carolina, along with the rest of the country, is facing a drug addiction crisis where there are limited facilities for long-term treatment for patients who need help.

Mission Hospital continues to face a crisis with large numbers of dual-diagnosed patients with mental health and drug addiction problems coming to the hospital for help.

But the hospital does not have enough beds to handle the number of patients needing help.

Ashe said her daughter dreamed of finishing her general studies classes at A-B Tech and continuing her studies to become a psychologist to help counsel others. Ashe said she hopes by speaking out, and honoring her daughter, that in some way she is carrying on her wish.

“I hope that she can look on us and smile, knowing that we’re spreading the word in what she wanted to see happen,” Ashe said.

While that brings a smile to Ashe’s face, she is still clearly grappling with the loss of her only child.

“I thought I was doing everything I could. But now I feel like I could have done things differently. I struggle with that, and I always will,” she said.

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