She almost died of an overdose. Now this mom wants to be “the best role model”

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Jina Widergren nearly died in 2016 after a fentanyl overdose. It took four shots of Narcan to revive her. But it wasn’t until 2018 that she decided to face her addiction and enter rehab.

Four years later, says Widergren, she hasn’t relapsed and, with the help of his family, rebuilt his life. She’s engaged, a mother and started a contracting business – her accomplishments are a far cry from the days when she spent $1,000 a day on pills or feared she was dead, her ashes resting in an urn on the his mother’s coat. This Mother’s Day, over brunch with her fiancé and their daughter, Mackenzie, 2, and her extended family, she’ll reflect on her recovery journey and celebrate her milestones.

“To be where I am now is surreal,” she said. “I never imagined that all of this was possible or that my life would be like this today.”

Widergren, 31, from Ronkonkoma, said that by sharing her story with Newsday, she hopes to break the stigma of addiction and offer hope to others.

The addiction started with an injury

Widergren’s addiction to opioids began after he was prescribed pain medication following an ATV accident in 2009. A doctor prescribed her oxycodone to help her finish her physical therapy, she said, but after six months she began abusing pills.

“I didn’t have any pain,” she said. “I didn’t think about my emotional pain, the physical pain. It was just like, ‘Oh, is that how normal people feel?’ ”

Widergren began buying painkillers illegally, sometimes swallowing large numbers “to have a really good day” or just a few to avoid withdrawal symptoms. She switched to heroin after moving to Florida in 2015 and then switched to the more potent fentanyl.

In early 2018, desperate to escape a physically abusive relationship, she said she called her mother for help.

I want to live. I want to survive.

-Tina Widergren

“I said, ‘I need you to take me home. I need help. I have to undergo treatment. … I want to live. I want to survive. ”

Back on Long Island, Widergren signed up for a 28-day hospitalization program. She has developed coping mechanisms to her addiction and trauma. Group therapy reminded her that she was not alone in her struggles. The 28 days were difficult, she says, but she quit using drugs and never looked back.

Drug addiction ‘happens more than people could imagine,’ said her mother, Annemarie Rooney, 54, from Hauppauge. “It happens at all levels: rich, poor, minorities.”

Adapting care to the patient’s needs

Many dependencies start with prescription drugs, said Dr. Youssef Hassoun, medical director of South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, which offers inpatient and outpatient addiction services. services.

Hassoun, who has a background in pharmacogenetics, the study of how genes affect how people respond to drugs, said about 20% to 30% of patients prescribed opioids misuse them. . Of these patients, 8-12% develop addiction and 4-6% switch to heroin. Stories like Widergren’s, he said, can shape public perceptions of drug use and recovery.

Although drug treatment options are available, he said, addicts often struggle to cope with coping mechanisms. He recommends that they make a list of “caring contacts” or people they can call when they feel like it.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to drug treatment, he said. Programs should be tailored to the needs of the patient.

It is not because a person suffers from drug addiction that he becomes an impaired person.

-Dr. Youssef Hassoun

“Just because someone has drug addiction doesn’t mean they’re weak,” Hassoun said. “We really have to keep the humanistic approach to this.”

A 2021 State Health Department Opioid Report shows that a total of 458 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties died from opioid overdoses in 2019. Christian Racine, Director of the Family Service League clinics in Huntington, said overdoses involving fentanyl have increased over the past two years. .

“Our experience reflects what has been reported, and at a national level,” he said. “It was certainly serious for many years.”

“I want to be the best role model”

For Widergren, getting sober was the first of many steps to rebuilding trust with his family, starting his own family, and achieving long-held dreams.

Memories of her intense detox process dissuaded her from relapsing, she said. She attended Heroin Anonymous meetings after leaving rehab, where she met her fiancé, Tim, 43, who is also recovering.

Dreams of motherhood seemed an unlikely possibility for Widergren, who suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that affects fertility. When she found out she was pregnant in August 2019, five months after her grandmother’s death, she counted the moment and the pregnancy as a blessing.

Being a mom is like my dream come true.

-Tina Widergren

“Being a mom feels like my dream came true,” she said. “[Mackenzie] is my reason to breathe. She is everything to me, and more.

Tina Widergren with her daughter Mackenzie Koerner, 2, at their home in Ronkonkoma.
Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Motherhood inspired her to become an entrepreneur, she said. In March, Widergren and her fiancé started a home-based business, offering “handyman” services. In the fall, Widergren plans to start nursing classes at Long Island University. In her spare time, she will also be planning a wedding in 2025.

But what keeps her going is her daughter.

“She keeps me on track, because I want nothing but the best for her,” Widergren said. “I want to be the best role model I can be.”

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