Lawmaker Fights For Addiction Treatment That Her Mom Desperately Needed

By Kelly Burch 06/26/18

"When my mother asked for help and there was no place to go, it was one of the most hopeless feelings I ever had. That was the moment that inspired me to do this work."

Brittany Pettersen
Brittany Pettersen is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives Photo via YouTube

After winning a seat in the Colorado state legislature in 2012, Brittany Pettersen tried her best to focus on her blossoming career. For her own health, that involved limiting her contact with her mother, Stacy, who had been living with active addiction for decades. 

"As a family we have been preparing for my mom's death our entire lives,” Pettersen told The LA Times. Stacy’s addiction was so severe that at one point she overdosed 20 times in 16 months. 

Still, Pettersen’s colleagues in the legislature knew nothing of her mother’s situation, and Pettersen couldn’t bring herself to work on addiction and recovery issues professionally. 

"I honestly never wanted to touch the issue of opioids because it was too personal," she said. "I felt like if I can't help my mom how can I help anyone else?”

Last August, Stacy overdosed yet again. She was resuscitated in the emergency room of a hospital near Denver and then moved to the intensive care unit. There, Stacy finally asked for help. Yet all her Medicaid would cover was three days of detox. Pettersen was heartbroken and furious. 

"When my mother asked for help and there was no place to go, it was one of the most hopeless feelings I ever had," Pettersen said. "That was the moment that inspired me to do this work. My mom's been using drugs for more than 30 years, she needs more than three days of detox. That's a joke.”

Luckily, Pettersen was able to get a court-order that put Stacy in a treatment program for two months involuntarily. Now, Stacy has been sober for seven months, and Pettersen has decided to share her family’s story in order to advocate for better addiction treatment services in Colorado. 

Pettersen is now working on legislation that would require Medicaid in Colorado to cover impatient and residential drug abuse treatment programs, rather than just covering three days of detox. Although the change would cost Colorado an estimated $34 million, it would bring in about $100 million in federal dollars, Pettersen said, in addition to cutting costs of emergency services. 

"It takes upfront costs to get out of a crisis," she said.

In April, Stacy testified in front of the Colorado state legislature in support of the bill. 

"Hello, my name is Stacy Pettersen. Some of you know me as Brittany's mom," she said. "My last 30 years have been tragic for my family and me, but I am here to tell the unexpected ending—that I am alive and have been sober for over seven months because I finally got the help I needed.”

Later, she talked about her hopes for recovery, including making amends with her children after decades of neglect. 

"I'd like to try and repair the damage I've done to my children," Stacy said. "I want to make the most of the time I have left and be the best mom I can be."

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.