SOUTH DEERFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – Eliza Harper was 10 months sober when she died of an accidental opioid overdose at her home in South Deerfield.
It was her 26th birthday. The deadly overdose marked the end of her five-year battle with addiction. A battle that countless others in our area and country wake up and face every single day. One that doesn’t discriminate.
“She was back in school, she was getting her degree, working part-time at a retirement community…she found some purpose in life,” said Eliza’s father Dan Harper. “It was a great up-turn.”
On the fateful day of November 30, 2018, Eliza’s youngest brother found her unresponsive on the couch. It was too late. Ever since her passing, Dan, a father of five, has made it his mission to make sure another family doesn’t have to experience the same pain.
“When Eliza passed, her family was nearby,” Dan shared with 22News. “She had family upstairs. She had family two minutes up the street, 10 minutes down the street. We had Narcan in the kitchen drawer.”
The missing piece was that Eliza had no way to call out for help. No way to alert her family that she was dying on their living room couch. That’s why her father is creating Eliza’s Watch — an app that would make it possible for an overdose victim to call out for help, even if they’re unconscious.
“The bottom line that I came to is that the ‘Just Say no to Drugs’ era is not working,” Dan said. “People are going to use for various reasons. There’s going to be fentanyl in some of this. It’s going to kill some people. They’re going to be using alone. My ultimate goal of this app is to have as much of a safety net as possible.”
Eliza’s Watch would monitor a user’s vitals using something like a watch or ring. If the user’s vitals dropped, the app would send an alert to a pre-determined emergency contact with the victim’s location.
“The idea is that if you’re using alone, someone has your back,” Dan explained.
He’s done a lot of research over the years — yearning to understand why the horrible disease plagued his young daughter’s life.
“People aren’t using because they want to use, Dan said. “People are using because they have to use and that’s a really important distinction.”
He can’t bring Eliza back, but he hopes what he’s learned will save other people’s lives in her honor. Right now, Dan is interviewing addicts, users in recovery, and families impacted by addiction, to make his app Eliza’s Watch as well-rounded as it can be.
“Everyone is clamoring for a thing to help,” Dan said. “Anything to help, to hold on to, to give you a little bit of hope that ‘If I can make it to tomorrow, that’s a new day of an opportunity of recovery.”
If you’d like to volunteer for an anonymous interview to help develop the app, click here.
Being a parent during the opioid epidemic
President Donald Trump brought nationwide attention to the issue by declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October 2017.
Despite the nationwide attention, Dan Harper knows all too well the stigma that surrounds addiction. He urges anyone who thinks their loved one has a problem to reach out for help.
“This is not a thing you can turn your back on,” he said. “It’s a thing that just…it creeps into every nook and cranny of your family’s fiber.”
Dan said acknowledging that Eliza had a problem with addiction helped him understand why she did the things she did.
“Now I can understand why you’re acting like that,” he recalled. “You stealing from my checking account is not saying that I did a horrible job being a parent. It’s not saying you’re a horrible kid for stealing from me, It’s saying this is a horrible disease.”
He also wants people to know that addiction can rear its ugly head at any time. At the time of Eliza’s accidental overdose, she was nearly one year sober.
“It’s not like when you break your leg and you can put on a cast and in three or four months you can run again and not worry about it again. That ‘leg’ can break at any second. It’s kind of a lifelong thing.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are plenty of resources out there. Connecting with Community: Get help for substance abuse
“The hardest thing I ever said to Eliza is: I really want to believe what you’re telling me…that you’re not stealing my money, that you’re not using drugs, but because of your addiction, I’m sorry, but I can’t believe that. And that was a game changer.”