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'I Arrested My Own Daughter For Heroin'

A Georgia mother and police officer speaks in favor of medical amnesty laws, which expand access to overdose reversal medications.

Photo: Lieutenant Tanya Smith with her daughtor, Taylor.


When Lieutenant Tanya Smith strides through the halls of Georgia’s general assembly, all eyes are upon her. When she addresses her audience, partisan squabbling ceases and a rare silence washes over the assembly. Smith advocates for a law enacted last Thursday in Georgia, which aims to reduce deaths from drug overdose by granting immunity from some drug charges to those who experience or seek help for an overdose. After 20 years of enforcing the punitive drug policies she now calls into question, Smith knows a lot about addiction and law. But she also knows as a mother. It is her story that captivates the room—a story of the love and loss of a mother sworn to uphold the law and a daughter determined to break it.

Smith’s nightmare began in 2011 after her daughter, Taylor, graduated high school. Taylor was, in her mother’s words, a free-spirited young woman known for a witty sense of humor and a unique, high-pitched laugh. She loved to learn and tried never to miss a day of school, which was difficult as the severe asthma that had plagued her since childhood made sudden hospital visits a frequency. But that summer, Smith began to notice something strange. Her daughter was wearing long sleeved shirts, even as the air shimmered with heat. She was moody, and her funny laugh no longer echoed through the house.

Tanya didn’t know why her daughter was changing, but she soon found out when Taylor was arrested with a boyfriend in Canton, Georgia, for possession of prescription opioids. The officer asked Taylor to roll up her sleeves and she complied, revealing a network of track marks that raked up her arms. The arresting officer knew Smith and notified her immediately.

“I’d never been so shocked in my life,” said Tanya. “I raised my kids right. I taught them not to use drugs. I used to hear people say that drug use can happen to anyone, but I thought that didn’t apply to me.”

Angry and humiliated, Lt Smith did not bail her daughter out of jail, nor did she visit. She left Taylor incarcerated for three weeks in hopes that the experience would be a wake-up call. Eventually, at the urging of a lawyer who warned that Taylor was “getting a good criminal education in jail,” Smith posted bond and took her daughter home. It was not an easy homecoming and the air between them crackled with resentment. But Taylor was safe and it appeared that she had stopped using drugs. At the moment, that was all that mattered to Tanya.

A few months later, in February 2012, Tanya received a call from her brother who lived down the street urging her to come quickly. Rushing to her brother’s house, she found Taylor collapsed on a couch, turning blue around the lips and not breathing. Tanya felt for a pulse. Nothing. She panicked.

“I ran outside screaming for an ambulance,” she said. “It was the only time in my life I hadn’t remained calm. I’ve seen and done a lot as a law enforcement officer, but when I saw my own daughter there I thought, ‘This is it. I’m saying good-bye.’ I thought she’d had an asthma attack.”

Tanya’s brother dialed 911 and when the ambulance arrived, paramedics quickly injected Taylor with a clear liquid. Within seconds she gasped to life and the color returned to her cheeks. Tanya was so weak with relief, she didn’t even think to ask about the miracle medicine. But on the ride to the hospital, paramedics explained they had given Taylor naloxone, an antidote used to reverse drug overdose from opiates such as heroin or prescription painkillers. Tanya was stunned and furious. She couldn’t believe her daughter had gone back to using drugs.

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