The first time Kim Earling of Braidwood met her only grandchild was in the casket at a funeral home.
“We went to plan Samantha’s funeral,” Kim said, referring to her 22-year-old daughter who had died of drug overdose. “And the funeral director looked at us and said, ‘How would you like the baby laid out?’”
Earling said anyone who loves a person with an addiction always wonders when “that day” will come. But when her daughter, Samantha Kile, was growing up, Kim never imagined that day would come for her.
“Samantha was a very happy, caring, bubbly soul who was friends with everyone,” Kim said. “She could light up a room. If you were having a bad day, she would turn it into a good day, no matter what her troubles were.
“She was very intelligent. In high school, she actually tested into accelerated classes. She always put other people first. She never wanted to disappoint anyone. She was always very apologetic when these things happened.”
Earling said she and Samantha had what Earling considered to be an open relationship, where they could talk about anything. That’s why Earling was stunned the day a gym teacher told Earling that Samantha, then in the sixth grade, was cutting.
“She was such a good kid, always smiling around the house,” Earling said. “She never once gave us a clue anything was wrong. I was immediately concerned and wanted to get to the bottom of it. I wanted to fix her. But she just clammed up. She was afraid of hurting me. She wanted to show me the ‘happy Samantha.’ ”
Kim said Samantha saw a counselor for a year. She learned Samantha was missing her father. Samantha had been close with him until he and Kim broke up. Kim began seeing Chris Earling when Samantha was 8 and eventually married him.
Samantha did well after counseling and became very active in softball, cheerleading and speech during her first year of high school, Kim said. This was despite the fact Samantha had another loss around eighth-grade graduation: Chris’ dad, to whom Samantha had become close, had died.
Within 18 months, Samantha’s grades had dropped. One of Samantha’s friends called Kim and told her Samantha was using heroin. Kim called a friend who had a relative who was a psychologist for advice on symptoms of heroin use and tips for checking Samantha’s bedroom.
“I started educating myself. I didn’t even know what signs to look for,” Kim said. “She was sleeping all the time, there was weight loss and mood swings, and all of a sudden I was finding these little orange caps. I didn’t know what they were until I started reading about them. They were the covers for the needles.”
Kim also started home-schooling Samantha, who did so well with the program she almost graduated early, Kim said.
“But we never completed it,” Kim said. “Because that’s when the drugs took over.”
At that point, since Samantha refused to go into rehabilitation, Kim decided to change Samantha’s environment and took her to Arizona. Chris stayed in Illinois until he found a job in Arizona. But within a week and a half of the move, Samantha had gone online searching for heroin.
“By this time, she had gotten sloppier at hiding it,” Chris said. “I even had videos of her high, but she still denied she was high. She always claimed her doctor gave her too much Xanax or something.”
Eventually, Kim persuaded Samantha to go into rehabilitation, which Samantha did to pacify Kim, since Samantha still was denying she was using heroin, Kim said.
“She tried to leave after a week and a half,” Kim said. “She walked out – it was a 30-day program – and she called us up and said, ‘I’m leaving. You need to come get me.’ The counselor at that point had arranged a phone meeting with me and said, ‘Don’t come get her.’ Once she realized we weren’t going to get her, she went back to the rehab facility and checked herself back in.”
Samantha spent Christmas 2013 in rehab and completed the 30 days. Did it help?
“I liked to think it did,” said Chris, who joined his family in Arizona in February 2014. “Things seemed to be OK. She was smoking pot, which I never agreed with, but everybody tried, more or less, to convince me it was the better alternative, so I tried to ride with it.”
Samantha found a job at a fast-food restaurant, along with heroin from one of her co-workers, which triggered a relapse. The family returned to Illinois and their former jobs in April, Kim and Chris said.
Kim pushed rules and rehabilitation. Chris said loved ones insisted Samantha must hit “rock bottom” before she might seek help. Samantha had a total of five stays in rehabilitation and was in and out of jail for drug possession, Kim said.
The 90-day rehabilitation at the end of 2015 worked well for Samantha. She had a year of sobriety until Kim’s aunt died in July 2017. At that point, Samantha went on Vivitrol, a brand name for naltrexone, an opioid blocker, which also worked well for Samantha, Kim said.
Until January 2018, when Samantha missed her Vivitrol injection by one day.
“She went and used again,” Kim said. “And that led to eight overdoses in 30 days.”
Samantha went back on the Vivitrol and became pregnant in April. But Kim said she and Chris did not know about the pregnancy until August. At that point, Samantha had to go off the Vivitrol because it’s not approved for use in pregnant women, Kim said.
Kim said she begged health providers to reconsider. Chris said Samantha was prescribed Subutex, the brand name for buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat addictions. Chris said the Subutex, “didn’t do squat.”
The baby was due Jan. 3. Samantha died Nov. 3 from an overdose of fentanyl.
Kim said the night it happened, Chris was out of town and Samantha was visiting a relative. Kim had gone to bed and Samantha woke her up when she came home, letting Kim know she was going to take a bath.
Periodically Kim awakened and heard the bathroom fan, signs Samantha still was in the bath. Finally, Kim was wide awake, realizing Samantha was taking a very long bath. She got up to check.
“She was face-down in the bathtub,” Kim said.
Before running for the Narcan, the brand name for naloxone, which treats overdoses, an act now habit, Kim looked at the ceiling for strength and thought, ‘I guess today is the day.’ ”
Why are Kim and Chris telling Samantha’s story? Because they want real change.
Kim wants Vivitrol approved for pregnant women. She wants overdoses classified as suicide attempts. She wants people to understand the impact addiction has on the addict’s brain.
“I want everybody to know change needs to happen with the way everybody, society, treats addicts,” Kim said. “Addiction affects more families than people are aware of … this can happen to anyone: rich, poor, good or bad. And it destroys families. It took my only child and my only grandchild from me. Change needs to happen. And I’m going to fight for that.”