Dr. Melanie Weiss speaks at Doland Town Hall meeting
By Shiloh Appel
On Monday evening, April 9th, 2018, the last local Town Hall meeting of the year was held at the Doland School with Dr. Melanie Weiss as the keynote speaker. Organized by the Spink County Coalition, the Doland Town Hall meeting was one of three meetings this year held to bring awareness to the community on issues such as opioid, methamphetamine and other addictions.
Dr. Weiss, who was arrested on September 30th of 2016 for unlawfully entering a Watertown home, was found in possession of prescription pills belonging to the homeowner. She was sentenced to 180 days in jail and was given credit for 70 of those days for treatment. On April 9th, Weiss shared her story with a gym full of 73 people.
"That was me eighteen months ago, and that moment is still very raw for me and very emotional," said Weiss, after sharing a news clipping announcing her arrest.
Weiss went on to describe her background and the events that led up to her arrest.
"I grew up in the normal middle class family with two parents present. I was a normal high school student. I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to be an optometrist…I had to work really, really hard because I wasn't a straight-A student… I got into optometry school and realized that I wanted to own my own practice by the time I was 35. I accomplished those goals before I was 35."
Weiss not only opened her own practice, but added on to her clinic five years after opening. It was growing and flourishing, so two years later she added on again. She said that, contrary to the belief that addicts "just don't have enough willpower," she was always driven in life and working towards her goals.
"I don't say that to brag, but I say that to show you the willpower that I had. I feel like I had a lot of willpower in my life," said Weiss.
It was after her first surgery two years ago that Weiss was first prescribed opioid pain medication. After her initial surgery, in which her appendix was removed, two more surgeries followed.
"After those surgeries I had already built up a tolerance. The doctor said take one or two, every four to six hours, of Vicodin. It really didn't help the pain. So I self-prescribed myself and I would take three or four every three or four hours," said Weiss. "At that time I really didn't think anything of it. I continued to just take the pain medications and I got to the point where I really, honestly, felt in my mind that I was a better mother, better doctor, a better wife and a better neighbor when I was on the pain medications."
It was the beginning of a downward spiral for Weiss, who began to take medications from family members and friends after her own prescriptions ran out. After using up her family's medications without their knowledge, Weiss began prescribing pain medications to her family.
"I was able to prescribe opiate pain medication as an optometrist and they never really thought anything of it because I always made something up. I would say I hurt my foot or I am suffering from migraines. I would never go to one family member more than once. So I would ask them if they would fill this prescription and give it to me so that I can keep working. They believed me," said Weiss.
It was a long journey for Weiss, who was caught and turned in by her brother-in-law and put on probation for 12 months.
"You would think that by that time that would be enough for me to not use anymore. And I tried. Even with that, and knowing that my license was on the line, I could not get off the pills. I tried everything that you could imagine to try to get off of them. I tried a hundred different ways of weaning down. I tried switching to different medications. I tried switching to alcohol and I always went back to the pain medications - the opioids," said Weiss.
Weiss had started going into friends and neighbors houses to look through their medicine cabinets. She would sometimes go when they were home and ask to use their restroom. She would also go when they were not home and have a back-up plan in mind in case she were to be caught. Her plan was to simply say she was looking for one of her kids, or had left something in the house and was coming back to get it.
"And then 18 months ago I walked out of my clinic and I walked down the street and I went into somebody's house that I knew while they were not home and when I walked out, the Watertown detectives were standing there waiting for me. It was the worst day and the best day of my life," said Weiss. "At that time I had three teenage daughters in high school. One that was a senior in high school and two - the twins- that were sophomores in high school. I was arrested at 11a.m. in the daytime and by 11:30a.m. it was on the radio and it was on the 12 o'clock news.The school was kind enough to pull my kids out of class and tell my husband to come pick them up, because it was kind of a big deal.I was one of those moms that was a very active mom. I coached the softball team. I was always present at every single event that the kids were at. And they thought their mom was this perfect mom that worked really hard and succeeded in life and then to have that come crashing down on them - that their mom was now in jail, is really tough for me to still get past."
Weiss said that going through detox, treatment and jail was life changing for her.
"It was a tough 110 days. But, believe it or not, I am very, very thankful for being arrested. It truly, truly did save my life. To you officers that sometimes don't get to hear a thank you, there is a lot of people out there that thank you for what you do.
I am also thankful for the time I spent in jail because it gave me time to actually sit and do what I am supposed to do and read books that I was told to read when I was in treatment. Time to read the Bible and time to reflect on the direction that I want my life to go," said Weiss. "When I was arrested, I honestly thought that my world was done. Completely done. I thought my husband is going to leave me. I thought my kids wouldn't talk to me. I thought I was going to lose my business. I didn't think anybody in Watertown or the surrounding community would have anything to do with me. I was literally frightened. My oldest was a boys' basketball varsity cheerleader at the time and when I got done with treatment I wanted to watch her cheer. I had to walk into that big arena while all of this was public, so I could watch my daughter. I was so frightened that people would say bad things to me or they would scowl at me. But I had so much support out there and I had so many people rooting for me, saying, 'You can do this. We have faith in you. You can do this.'
When my kids heard the news, they had so many kids that surrounded them, that had their back. That is such a huge thing. That when somebody is going through something, be there for them… Today I am clean and sober and I can enjoy my kids and there are people that still respect me."
After Weiss finished her story, which was received with a standing ovation, Mark (surname omitted to protect privacy) shared his story of addiction in poetry-form. Members of the Spink County Sheriff's Department closed out the evening by sharing incidences and run-ins they have had with the methamphetamine and opioid epidemic in the area. They also shared drug addiction warning signs and telltale objects to be aware of when a Meth lab is in question.
A meal was provided by Representative Lana Greenfield and the night ended with a time for questions and answers.