No easy answer for families of Nevada County OD victims |

No easy answer for families of Nevada County OD victims

It’s been more than 10 years since Deanna Maxwell lost her 25-year-old son to a drug overdose.

But the recent spate of opioid-related deaths in Nevada County is breaking her heart all over again, she says.

“There have been far too many lately,” Maxwell said, adding that she wanted to share her son’s story in the hopes of opening eyes. “The more awareness, the better, because it can happen to anybody.”

Maxwell’s son, Derick Smith, had gone through two rehab stints before his fatal relapse, she said.

“He had gone to a methadone clinic, but it didn’t work out,” Maxwell said. “He OD’d on methadone.”

At first, Maxwell said, she was afraid to tell people Derick had overdosed, and acknowledged she did hear some comments that he only had himself to blame.

In all, about three or four of Derick’s friends ended up dying of an overdose, she said, adding, “They were all great kids, they just got themselves into a situation. … They should be here (now), in the prime of their lives, and they’re gone.”

That regret — that those who have OD’d lost one more shot at rehabilitation — is palpable in the voices of those left behind.

“My brother did a lot of bad things … but I loved him and never gave up hope that he could have turned his life around,” said Adrian Arco, whose brother, Brendan Moore, was found dead of an overdose this summer.

Arco said he and Moore were close when he was clean, but he would disappear when he was using.

Moore had been released from prison in December after serving seven years for several burglaries. He had been out for only about a week when he went out and got high, Arco said.

“He just never felt he could make something better of his life,” Arco said. “What kills me the most is, this person who was so smart and so funny and so capable didn’t do anything with his life. He had two or three good years, and now he’s gone.”

Arco has a picture of Moore that he keeps in his wallet, he said.

“I wish I could tell everyone in the community I’m so sorry for what he did to them,” Arco said. “He wasn’t just that person. I’m sad they never got to see the good side of him. … He was 36 when he died. It kills me, that’s all he got on this earth.”

Looking for an answer

No one has an easy answer for a seemingly unfixable problem.

Arco believes drug addiction stems from a feeling of inadequacy, adding mental health issues get swept under the rug all too often.

“People use because they are anxious and depressed and can’t function,” he said. “In California, state-funded health care is terrible. There is so little access (to treatment), and so many people with undiagnosed conditions. Behavioral Health is overwhelmed.”

Maxwell knows all too well how complex addiction issues are, saying her one wish would be for a painkiller that is not addictive.

“I don’t think anyone plans on overdosing,” she said. “My biggest fear that I would wake up one day and he would be gone — and it came true. I don’t know why (he overdosed). I still don’t know why.”

A Nevada County resident who has seen several friends die this year said no one in her circle saw it coming.

I don’t know what the answer is,” she said. “I don’t see an easy answer. It can’t hurt to have more people know about Narcan (a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose).”

Maxwell agreed, saying, “I’m all for anything that could save a life. If you can save one child and give them one more shot, how could it be bad?”

The mother of one 20-something who overdosed this year was more equivocal, saying she worried that users could become complacent.

“I guess that is my worry about people feeling the (fentanyl) test strips and Narcan will be the fix,” she said. “It will be in many situations, but not all. So I guess I support the efforts… But we do need more and I am not sure what that is. Yes, get the cartel or whoever the bigwigs are that are bringing it up here, and also the distributors and dealers.”

Part of what has been difficult for her to accept is that she might have been able to safeguard her son had she known about the prescription pills laced with fentanyl.

“The key is, no one thought it would come here,” she said. “How would I have approached this differently, if I had known? It’s a heartbreak. These are our kids, this is impacting our families and our community. I don’t want any other family to go through this.”

The efforts to educate and provide Narcan and testing are not futile, she said, but acknowledged feeling more needs to be done.

“I wish I had answers that were more helpful,” she said. “I am not an expert — I am just a mom who wants her son back.”

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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