In memoriam: Alexis Shapiro ’16, 1998-2018


Grace DeKoker and Harper Hill

The LT community is more than just the current student body: it includes all alumni. The entire community is grieving after the death of former LT student Alexis Shapiro ‘16. Her death resonates with many, and through the tragic event, her family hopes her story will save a life.

Alexis died from a drug-induced heart attack on Aug. 11, 2018. Laced drugs in her system combined with the medications given to her by medical professionals to counteract the effects of an overdose were simply too much for her heart to handle, her father Peter Shapiro said.

“The most important reason to raise awareness regarding drug addiction is to save lives,” NC social worker Joan Cushing said. “Part of the education [surrounding drugs] should also involve detailing the toll drug use and addiction takes on children [and] families. In addition to making people aware of the dangers of drugs, it is also very important that information about how to get help for yourself or someone else be provided.”

The use of illicit substances can often be a result of mental illness, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Due to a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, Alexis began struggling with a narcissistic personality disorder known as hypomania, Peter said. Her mental illness is a main reason she began to turn to opioids and other addictive substances.

“It started out as something to do for fun, with the drinking and marijuana usage,” Peter said. “Kids do it because they want to party. But [for Alexis], it was definitely a self-medication to overcompensate for some sort of issues internally.”

Throughout high school, Alexis was a very involved student and surrounded herself with people she loved, Peter said.

“She was confident, social, happy, always wanted to make other people happy, cared about other people’s feelings, and just generally liked to have fun,” Peter said. “Her favorite things were bike riding and walking the dogs and being with her friends. She just enjoyed herself and enjoyed life, until things started to change.”

According to the CDC, 105 people die each day due to drug overdose. In 2017, there were 2,775

reported deaths due to opioid overdoses in Illinois alone. The nation is currently facing an opioid epidemic unlike any other; it is becoming easier and easier to access prescription medications, and even more dangerously, it is becoming easier to enhance them.

While any drug in itself poses a potential danger, laced drugs significantly increase the risks of serious complications and overdose, according to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA). Fentanyl-laced opioids are on the rise, because they exaggerate the effects typical opioids would have on the nervous system. The drug can be 100 times as potent as morphine, and the NIDA reported that the “high potency of fentanyl greatly increases risk of overdose, especially if a person who uses drugs is unaware that a powder or pill contains fentanyl.”

Though it can be used as a strong pain killer with prescription, fentanyl has been sold and used illicitly for decades, according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It is often used as an enhancer for heroin, which is why it is so deadly; heroin users are either unaware of fentanyl potency or of its presence altogether. The combined power leads down two roads: overdose or an addiction that is harder to kick because of the increased “high” it gives.

Addiction is a horrific disease, but just as with any other illness, there are treatments and ways to get to recovery. For Alexis, who had struggled with mental illness, seeing a therapist was the first step for her, Peter said.

“Therapy is definitely a large factor [in the recovery process], because the person needs to figure out who they are and how they can overcome [their struggles],” Peter said. “If they have any issues internally, then that’s going to be in the way, so they need to figure out what their issues are so they can be honest with themselves and work through it.”

Therapy can be just as important for the family as it is for the patient, Peter said. It is essential for the family to stay informed and understand how addiction affects the body and mind.

“We would get frustrated thinking why is she doing this to us, and then we realized it’s the disease,” Peter said. “It takes over their minds and their bodies. They do things because of the chemical dependency—they have this need for it in their bodies.”

The process definitely isn’t easy, Peter said. Finding a therapist, psychiatrist, or treatment center that is a good fit for the patient and their family can take multiple tries.

“You see breakthroughs,” Peter said. “Unfortunately with the addiction and the mental side of it, you take two steps forwards, but sometimes you take three steps back. Even Alexis, the first couple of times [she went to rehabilitation centers], we felt like she was only there because we made her go, not because she wanted it, and that makes a big difference in actually succeeding. You need to want it for yourself.”

Relapse is part of the recovery process, as frustrating and discouraging as it may be. According to Psych Reg, 40 to 60-percent of patients suffering with substance abuse will relapse within the first year of treatment. When individuals are exposed to certain environmental, social or emotional triggers, the symptoms of withdrawal can become too overwhelming to resist.

“You always have to remember that it’s easy to be angry at them, but sometimes the way that you act is not helping them, and it just makes it worse,” Alexis’s brother Marc Shapiro ‘19  said.

It is important to recognize the signs of someone who may be turning to drug use, including a change in personality and loss of interest in activities they were once passionate about, Peter said. Parents should be open to reaching out for support and avoid shaming their child, which could only lead them to steer away from their family more and increase their drug usage.

“A lot of people, if they don’t know someone, they just hear ‘drug addict,’ and they think it’s someone who’s choosing to do [drugs],” Marc said. “When it’s someone in your family you realize it’s more of a disease, and they’re not choosing to do it. You see how much it hurts them to do it, because they can see how much it hurts you, but they just can’t control themselves.”