HealthVoices of Hope


Overdose deaths 'worst on record' during COVID-19 pandemic: 'She wasn't ready to go. She wanted to live.'

Posted at 1:27 PM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-17 14:35:24-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Cassie Godsey was just 34 years old when she died on January 22.

Godsey had a decade-long struggle with addiction to opioids.

Her addiction started with painkillers.

She endured three painful surgeries and a MRSA infection before becoming addicted to the drugs that treated her pain.

Her addiction eventually shifted to heroin.

Cassie's mother, Patricia Godsey said she always clung to hope that her daughter could recover with the right treatment.

"She had such a gorgeous smile," Patricia Godsey said. "She wasn't ready to go. She wanted to live, and she wanted for tomorrow to come."

While Cassie's struggle with drugs was apparent long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the March 2020 shutdown made matters much worse.

"It did take a trajectory, fast downhill over the past year," her mother said.

A free flow of money from unemployment checks gave Cassie funds to purchase illegal drugs, while many drug treatment centers shut their doors.

Cassie ended up in jail in December on a drug charge.

When she was released a month later, a COVID-19 diagnosis prevented her from entering a rehabilitation center.

She died while quarantining in her parents' home.

Her mother said she found her daughter slumped over in the laundry room.

She said she was unsure how Cassie gained access to the drug that claimed her life.

"I want to blame somebody, that would make it so much easier," Patricia Godsey said. "I want to blame myself."

Patricia Godsey said the most devastating part of her daughter's death was that she was about to begin injection treatments in Maryland to help control the anxiety that was often hurting her chances for recovery.

Godsey said she spent several months researching the use of Stellate Ganglion Block or SGB to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Recent studies showed the treatments have helped facilitate treatment for addicts by controlling the sympathetic system responsible for fight or flight that has long been known to play a part in PTSD.

Godsey said the treatment could help thousands of struggling addicts.

"It's heartbreaking," Godsey said. "I'm thrilled and heartbroken all at the same time because I just had a feeling it was our ticket, that missing piece for her especially."

Cassie's story is familiar to many addicts and their families. While fatal drug overdoses have been the leading method of unnatural death in Virginia since 2013, the pandemic has resulted in an enormous 63% increase in the number of overdose deaths since 2019.

Preliminary results from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner show that 2020 will be the worst year on record, by far, for fatal overdoses in Virginia.

John Shinholser, the co-founder of the McShin Foundation, a non-profit recovery organization in Henrico County, said the pandemic has compounded problems with drug and alcohol addiction.

"A lot of addiction is a direct result of feelings, mental health, trauma, and stress," Shinholser said.

Shinholser said stress and uncertainty during the shutdown have led to new addicts, people who have never had problems with drugs or alcohol. For people already struggling with the disease of addiction, the loss of face-to-face peer support services has been detrimental.

Shinholser said government funding is crucial as more than 80% of addicts have a fighting chance of recovery when they continue with peer support programs for at least five years after detox and initial treatments.

"We're not going to solve addiction, deaths are not going to go away," Shinholser said. "However, I do believe we can reduce by 50% the impact addiction is having in our communities just by engaging in funding these non-governmental organizations and we're uniquely qualified to do what we do."

Godsey said lessons learned from her family's heartbreaking loss, could help pave the road to recovery for other addicts. She's encouraging narcotics investigators to be more transparent with the public about drug overdose deaths in communities, especially when it becomes evident that a "bad patch" is circulating and resulting in multiple deaths.

Godsey said no parent should have to bury a child. She's hopeful that families will receive the support they desperately need and understanding from others that addiction is a disease.

"Cassie was who she was," Godsey said. "But she didn't want to be judged."

Helpful Links

Substance Abuse Free Environment
List of addiction and recovery resources including online meetings and 24/7 crisis helplines

The segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.