Bev Kelley-Miller of Appleton is tired of the stigma associated with addiction. She's speaking out to get people talking about the dangers of drugs and to educate teens not to make the same bad choices that ultimately killed her daughter.
Bev shares her painful story with students across Northeast Wisconsin. The day we filmed our story, she was making her presentation to a classroom of ninth graders at Appleton East, the same high school her daughter Megan graduated from before a drug addiction stole her future.
"She just thought it was having fun, and she never ever dreamed that she would end up in that urn," she explains.
Megan began using alcohol and opioids when she was just 14-years-old. She would skip school to hang out with drug abusers. In 2013, her boyfriend died from an oxycodone overdose. That's when Bev says his friends introduced Megan to heroin, and she quickly got hooked.
"She begged me and said, 'Mom, something bad is going to happen if I don't go into detox.'"
Bev sent Megan to a treatment center in Michigan, but when she got out, police arrested her on four felony charges connected to an overdose that her friend survived. Megan was facing up to 50 years in prison if convicted.
"She screamed from across the courtroom, 'Mom!' I'm thinking what can I do? I mean the damage is already done."
Megan got out of jail as her case moved through the courts, but on April 14th of last year, Bev got the call she always dreaded.
"My first reaction was no, no. I just talked to her. She was fine, and he's like, 'Yeah. She's gone.'"
Just a month later, Bev was already speaking in schools across Northeast Wisconsin.
"Our family has been greatly impacted by this, and I don't want any other family to have to walk in our shoes."
Bev places her daughter's ashes at the front of the classroom, she wears a necklace with Megan's thumbprint on it, and students view the 22-year-old's obituary and death certificate that says she died from a heroin overdose.
"It's definitely going to have a lasting impact on my life and how I think of drugs," says Appleton East High School student Matthew Moorhead.
Classmate Emily Breister says, "I was shocked. I never thought that people from the Fox Valley would be really involved with drugs like this."
Educators say Bev's message personalizes what they try to teach.
"It's not just something that's in Milwaukee or another state. It's in the Fox Valley, and it affects them specifically," says Appleton East High School Health Teacher Randy Reed.
Bev says if she can save just one life, reliving the sorrow through her speeches is worth it.
"I've been told I make a difference and that's what motivates me. Plus, I'm never going to let anyone forget my daughter ever."
Bev stresses that addiction affects one-in-three families and doesn't discriminate when it comes to age, sex, race or socioeconomic background. She believes addicts need more support from the justice system and better treatment options to combat the drug epidemic.