By Jordyn Grzelewski
When Stacy Catlett bought drugs the night of May 27, she couldn’t wait until she got home to get high.
The Lisbon woman pulled into the parking lot of a Wendy’s on Raccoon Road, where she injected herself with a powerful opioid concoction.
Shortly thereafter, Catlett lost consciousness, and her breathing slowed.
At 12:33 a.m. May 28, township police were dispatched to the fast-food restaurant, where they found Catlett lying next to a silver Pontiac G6. She had a pulse but was not breathing except for intermittent gasps, according to a police report.
On the brink of death, Catlett didn’t know at the time that this night would be a turning point in her 15-year battle with drug addiction.
After receiving multiple doses of Narcan, an opioid-overdose antidote, she was taken to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital. At the scene, police reportedly found syringes, a metal spoon with residue and burn marks, and “two off-white rocks and powder” that tested positive for heroin, according to the report.
Fast forward seven months. On Tuesday, the 27-year-old walked into the Austintown Police Department with a mission: To thank the police who arrested her for that incident in May.
“If it wasn’t for him arresting me at the hospital, I would be dead right now,” said Catlett, referring to Patrolman Adam Hess, who showed up at St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital hours after her overdose to take her to the Mahoning County jail.
Catlett’s case later was sent to Mahoning County Common Pleas Court, where she pleaded guilty to a felony drug-possession charge so that she could enter Judge John M. Durkin’s drug court.
Defendants who are accepted into Mahoning County’s drug court must spend a year in addiction treatment, get a job, and obtain a GED or diploma, among other requirements. Upon successful completion of the program, the defendant’s charges are dismissed.
Catlett credits Austintown police with giving her the push she needed to get help, and decided to drop by the police station Tuesday to tell them that. There, she got to personally thank Austintown Detective Lt. Jeff Solic, who leads the Mahoning Valley Law Enforcement Task Force.
Solic was happy to meet Catlett, who he said is evidence of his belief that arrests actually help addicts.
“It kind of validates my thinking that people sometimes need a little push to change, and need to hit rock bottom before they change. ... Sometimes being charged is the rock bottom they need,” he said. “Our goal from the law-enforcement perspective isn’t to incarcerate people who overdose or are using heroin or other opiates. It’s to keep them safe.”
Solic thanked Catlett, too, saying that she was the only person he knows of who has taken the time to come and thank the police in person.
“It’s nice to hear from someone on the other side, who’s actually benefited from being charged,” he said.
Catlett said her trip to the police station was prompted by the holiday she spent with her family. It was the first Christmas in many years where she not only showed up, but showed up sober and healthy.
“I owe that man my life,” she said of Solic. “This is the first time in 15 years that my family has their granddaughter, their daughter.”
After getting hooked on prescription pain pills 15 years ago, Catlett said, she briefly got clean, then started using again after being prescribed pain medication due to a serious car accident at age 17.
When her prescription medication was no longer covered by her insurance, she said, she sought out prescription drugs on the streets.
“But that’s ridiculously expensive. So why not get heroin?” she said. “No one tells you on the street, ‘Hey, this is going to ruin your life.’”
It was that path that eventually brought Catlett to the Wendy’s parking lot, and to the Austintown police, and to Judge Durkin’s drug court.
Now, she said, “Every day is a gift to me because I’m not supposed to be here.”
Posing for a picture outside the police department, Catlett fretted about her appearance – she had just been crying, after all, from her emotional visit with police department officials.
She thought back to photographs taken the day of her overdose. Pictures taken by police show a disheveled, unsmiling Catlett gazing miserably into the camera.
“I felt like I was going to die,” she recalled.
On Tuesday, Catlett again looked into the camera.
This time, she smiled brightly.