HAMBURG, N.Y. — It's a painful and vivid memory, etched into Marcia DeFazio's brain — March 31, 2014 — the day she found her daughter dead on the floor of an accidental drug overdose.
Marlee, 21, had taken Xanax that was laced with Fentanyl.
"Her coping mechanism and her way of dealing with her stress and anxiety was just to take the edge off using opioids. That's why she's not here anymore," DeFazio said.
"That image will never leave my brain. I have to live with that image for the rest of my life. It's something that I don't want another parent to ever have to go through or deal with, but that's the sad, horrible reality of opioids and overdosing that we have to live with."
And that's why DeFazio is so open and honest about her family's personal tragedy and her daughter's short battle with addiction. She wants to normalize the often uncomfortable conversation about addiction and lessen the stigma surrounding the topic.
DeFazio says her daughter was a driven young women with plans for the future. She graduated from Orchard Park High School. Then she went to community college while working two jobs. She spent plenty of time with family and friends.
"She wanted to be a child advocate lawyer. She was going to school for criminal justice but her ultimate goal was to help kids. It's ironic that here we are here years later [talking about this] because we are trying to help kids," DeFazio said.
Marlee's aunt, Maureen Billiet, said there we no outward signs that she had a problem with drugs. All of the positive things in her life veiled a secret she managed to keep from loved ones.
"You have all of those things going on in your life. You have a job, two jobs, school. You have to report in to mom and dad. Touch base with your friends. You have all of these things going on in your life, but you have this one secret, and the secret is bigger than really all of that," Billiet said.
DeFazio and her family are active with Kids Escaping Drugs. They take part in the annual recovery walk to raise awareness and speak as part of the KED Peer 2 Peer program to educate young people about the dangers and consequences of substance abuse.
"I would love to see KED go out of business because we've met our mission and we have done what we needed to do, but until then, here we are. We'll keep sharing, keep trying. We'll keep reaching out and helping people. It helps us and makes us feel better. We're keeping Marlee's spirit and legacy alive by giving back and helping which is exactly what she would want us to do," DeFazio said.