Mother of heroin victim turns grief into action

State research says use of the drug in Wisconsin is four times the national average. Heroin deaths in Milwaukee County have gone up 500 percent in last 10 years.

WISN 12 News is taking an in-depth look Thursday and Friday at the epidemic, which is touching people everywhere.

Investigative reporter Colleen Henry spoke with a mother who’s turning her grief into action.

“She started out with back pain,” Martine Tate said.

It’s been three years since Tate buried her daughter, Valerie Powers-Ferris.

“She lost her insurance. Her medication wasn’t being paid for, and that’s where it transferred. That’s where it started happening with the heroin. It’s cheaper. It’s quick. It’s cheaper. It’s everywhere,” Tate said.

One day Tate got a call that Powers-Ferris was being airlifted to the hospital because of an overdose.

“That’s when I found out there was a problem with heroin,” Tate said. “That was the beginning of a journey that took us … I didn’t have any idea where it was going to take us.”

Powers-Ferris survived that overdose, but she lost custody of her two children and eventually lost her life at age 36.

“She really did try. She loved her children very much. She wanted to be with her children, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way,” Tate said.

Powers-Ferris’ death was just one of hundreds in a state struggling with spiraling heroin use. Experts say most addicts start by abusing pills before they turn to heroin.

“This is a public health crisis,” Tate said.

Tate is now working to educate parents by working with Wisconsin CAN: Change Addiction Now. She leads support sessions and raises awareness with family programming such as this week’s showing of the Mark Wahlberg film “If Only in Franklin.”

“I was one of those that thought, ‘Not my kid,’ and it was. Don’t ever say, ‘Not my child,’” Tate said. “Who thinks their child is doing heroin?’

Tate hopes candid talk about losing her daughter prompts other parents to ask for help.

“I get to keep her voice alive through me by speaking up and speaking out to never give up hope. There’s always hope that your child can get the right kind of help,” Tate said.