A Hendersonville family lost a daughter, but they’ve started a fund to help treat teen addicts.
by Jess McCuan . photos by Tracy Turpen
Early on, they thought she was just moody. Anna Huneycutt, the third of four children, started acting differently once she wound up with a stash of prescription opiates after dental surgery around age 15. Her parents, Julie and Don Huneycutt of Hendersonville, noted the change and wondered if she was self-medicating. But Julie, an Asheville native with a psychology degree, says she thought they could work through the problem. “We were thinking and hoping that she would grow out of it,” Julie says.
But Anna did not. In fact, by 18, she was caught in a cruel cycle of drug dependency that had her parents checking her in and out of hospitals and other detox facilities in Western North Carolina and around the country. At 20, Julie says, Anna was sent to an Arizona rehab facility that cost more than $40,000 a month. “It was a constant rollercoaster,” says Julie Huneycutt, who was, until recently, the director of annual giving at Hendersonville’s Children and Family Resource Center. “We were scared to leave home, scared to take a vacation. I was exhausted, mentally and physically.”
The rollercoaster careened off its track in March 2010, when the Huneycutts found their 20-year-old daughter dead from an accidental overdose of prescription painkillers. Anna had eaten a late lunch with her father the day before. In fact, they had been discussing schooling and other happy plans. But by the next afternoon, in a rented house on the outskirts of Hendersonville, she passed out after ingesting a lethal combination of opiates, Klonopin and Xanax.
The entire Huneycutt clan was devastated. Her brother Mark Huneycutt, now 20 and living in Raleigh, biked across the United States in his sister’s honor that summer, through a nonprofit, Bike n’ Build. Big brother Josh, now an Energy Department analyst, missed classes in the weeks before he graduated from Columbia University. Her sister Sarah moved back home.
Anna’s parents turned their grief into action almost immediately. Just days after Anna’s death, Julie and Don, a longtime financial advisor who currently works for UBS, started a fund through the Community Foundation of Henderson County. Through Anna’s Hope, they gave $5,000 to help build a new Blue Ridge Community Health Services mental health building. The new center opened last fall and employs a full-time substance abuse counselor who also makes stops at the women’s shelter Mainstay and Henderson County public schools. Julie says one of the frustrating aspects of Anna’s treatments was running back and forth to doctors in two towns because some services were only available in Asheville.
On Facebook, Anna’s Hope has more than 3,500 followers, including Anna’s former classmates from Blue Ridge Community College and Hendersonville High. After the tragedy, Julie says she noticed an obituary for another local 20-year-old—followed by another, and then another. While not all were drug-related deaths, many were, and she’s reached out to Hendersonville-area mothers to both empathize and raise awareness about prescription drug abuse. This month, she will speak to the Kiwanis Club. Sadly, Huneycutt knows now that drugs are widely available and relatively easy for teens to acquire. “I’m always amazed that people want to hear me speak. I’m not a success story,” she says. “I didn’t save my child.”
Tearing up as she spoke one recent afternoon, she noted that there is now an empty chair at her family’s table. But in mid-January, Huneycutt got a break thay will allow her to share her story with people around the country. After meeting with philanthropist Lisbeth Riis Cooper, co-founder of CooperRiis Healing Community, Huneycutt will begin working full time on the Mother Bear Community Action Network, a new nationwide outreach, education and support program for families facing mental health and addiction challenges. In her new role, Huneycutt feels that, if she can help others avoid her experience, she will have done something worthwhile.
To make a contribution to the Anna’s Hope fund, visit the Community Foundation of Henderson County’s website: www.cfhcforever.org. Click on “Give Now” and look for the Anna’s Hope link, or check the site for other payment details.