Intermountain Caregiver Uses Her Loss to Help Others Battling Opioid Addiction

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“I was sitting in those two seats – my son and I sat right there – and now he is no longer here. It can happen to any one of you,” said Kelly, Intermountain Healthcare’s Patient Financial Services Director.

Kelly decided to share her personal story after years of suffering as her son, Billy Perkins, became addicted to opioids and other drugs – an addiction that resulted in his death. Now she is trying to help others – even if it is just one person or family.

It began when the family was on vacation and found an empty liquor bottle in the hotel. They had not known Billy was drinking and confronted him, which is when he admitted the problems were worse and included opioids. Kelly said, “We were taken aback, because Billy was always anti-drugs and alcohol.”   

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 Kelly Howard

She recalled an earlier conversation with Billy, when he said he knew someone at work who was taking OxyContin for the high. “I would say ‘Billy, that’s opioid similar to heroin. You need to stay away from this kid,’” Kelly said.

Billy had family members who had battled similar addictions. He lost his father to the disease in 2004.  Because of this history and prior experiences, Kelly knew he needed help. She asked her son to get treatment – which he did shortly afterwards.  She helped him get into a recovery center and sat with him in those same chairs as they listened to others talking about addiction. He left sober, got a job, resumed classes (he was a college student), and Kelly saw a ray of hope. Three months later he called her early one morning while hallucinating, and she rushed him to a hospital.

“The drug is powerful. You can tell he started using again. His whole personality changed. He looked horrible, looked puffy. He slept all the time. He was unkempt and making no sense,” Howard said.

His drug abuse never included his getting prescription painkillers. He got his drugs from the street and was spending at least $200 a day on the addiction.

Kelly said, “my son had hit bottom. After losing his license, seeing him in jail, car impounded – it was terrible.” Billy went back to a treatment center for another attempt to get clean for good. But this time he left early – and he passed away two weeks later from an overdose. The date was May 15, 2014, and he was 26 years old. The downward spiral was very quick, Kelly recalled, saying that all these events took place within a year’s time. 

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Billy Perkins 

It’s now three years later, and Kelly feels she is ready to speak out – ready to tell Billy’s story and ready to help other families confront their troubles. Ready to give hope to others. So she wrote his story and carries it and photos in a folder to share with all. She started speaking at treatment centers and addiction groups and wrote a letter to Dr. Marc Harrison, Intermountain’s president and CEO, after he addressed opioids in his Intermountain 2017 presentation.  

“I wanted the opportunity to share the message with Dr. Harrison. Intermountain plays such an important role in Utah and across the country,” Kelly said of the letter. “We have such an opportunity to make a difference and save lives.”

“Kelly’s letter is something I’ll never forget,” Dr. Harrison says. “Stories like the one she bravely shared about Billy sound the call for the deepest possible commitment to solving this crisis.  We have set ambitious goals with our physicians at Intermountain, and we’re working with government leaders and agencies that share our vision to confront this problem head on.  It’s our duty as physicians, as leaders of organizations, and as friends and neighbors in our communities, to remember people like Billy, to stay vigilant, and to work hard to make a difference.”

Kelly said, “I miss my son Billy; he is loved. I was never angry, but the sadness continues. My life has changed, and a piece of my heart is missing. I look in the newspaper every Sunday and know we are losing a whole generation of children. These are human beings, people who were at one time healthy. They are someone’s child, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend. And I don’t want my son to be forgotten,” she said.

“I feel there’s hope. I am just hoping that my experience – my family’s experience – will touch at least one person or one family and move them to get the help they need.”

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