BANGOR, Maine — There were secrets between Ashley Angela Winchell and her mother about the depth of the 21-year-old’s drug use, but in the end, the young woman opened up about her heroin addiction.
“She got to the point where she said, ‘Mom, I’m an addict,’” Bonnie Haghkerdar, who adopted Winchell and her twin brother, Bobby, from Tomsk, Siberia, in Russia when they were 3, said Monday at the end of her daughter’s memorial service at Hammond Street Congregational Church.
Winchell, who also went by the name Maya Champaign, died of an apparent heroin overdose on Aug. 19 in Trenton. Her name has been added to the ever-increasing list of drug-related deaths in Maine, which saw a record 272 fatal overdoses in 2015.
“She told me she overdosed,” Haghkerdar said, recalling conversations she’d had with her daughter. “[The fatal overdose] was her eighth. I kept telling her, ‘The odds are against you.’ I kept telling her the Narcan wouldn’t always work.
“This is the end result,” she said.
Narcan is a brand name of the opioid antidote naloxone that typically stops opioids from working for 30 to 40 minutes, providing users valuable time to get to a hospital for medical care. Several police agencies, including Bangor Police Department earlier this year, have provided Narcan to their officers, and the attorney general also has distributed 866 doses of naloxone to 26 law enforcement agencies across Maine.
Haghkerdar said her daughter had received Narcan several times.
“I’m not exactly sure when the drugs started, but I know it was after she turned 18, 18½,” Haghkerdar said of her daughter.
“She tried different things” to get clean, including rehab, but nothing seemed to stick, she said.
Winchell moved to Pennsylvania for awhile and was clean and sober and working, Haghkerdar said, but she reverted to her old ways during her monthly visits home to see her daughter, Katerina, who lives with Haghkerdar.
“She fell back in with the same crowd,” Haghkerdar said. “She truly loved Katerina above and beyond all else, but unfortunately, she couldn’t control the urges you get when you’re taking drugs.”
The Bangor woman’s trials were part of her obituary and her remembrance service, which also was filled with stories of her adoption, her love of hockey and performing, her competitive nature and happier times.
“It wasn’t something that we beat around the bush about,” Winchell’s cousin Jeremy Ewing said while standing near the front steps of the church used by more than 100 friends and loved ones to exit the building.
Ewing used Winchell’s Facebook posts to tell her story during the memorial, including one post that read, “Satan offers sinful pleasures but always hides the price tag.”
He spoke to her a couple months before her death.
“She told me she was using heroin. I did a little research and found out it’s an epidemic in Maine,” said Ewing, who lives in New Jersey. “It’s all over the country. Heroin and fentanyl have been taking wonderful people down in a big way.”
“Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin,” he said later. “That means someone could take the tiniest amount and overdose.”
In the first six months of 2016, 189 people in Maine died by drug overdose, which is up 50 percent over the same time last year, according to a preliminary analysis compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg, a University of Maine medical and forensic anthropologist who analyzes overdose deaths for the state’s attorney general who released the data last week.
Ewing said he tried to talk to his cousin about the dangers of heroin and fentanyl, which are sometimes mixed together by drug dealers, but he said, “it seems like the drug had already taken her.”
“She didn’t seem to grasp the weight of the situation,” Ewing said.
Winchell had an incredible support system with friends, family and members of her church, her mother said.
“There were hundreds of people who talked to her” about her addiction, Haghkerdar said.
“We didn’t always see eye to eye,” she added.
Her daughter’s drug overdose death is the “second one in this church in the last few months,” Haghkerdar said, mentioning the death of William Symonds, 22, who overdosed on heroin in May.
“It’s just a shame to lose my daughter and all the young people who get addicted to this drug and just don’t know what the repercussions are,” Haghkerdar said. “It’s another needless death.”