TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Connie Moreno learned years after she was told her aunt passed away in her sleep that the dearly departed actually died from a drug overdose.
She's lost several other loved ones since then and now the mother of three is hoping more families in southern Arizona will have candid, honest discussions about addiction and overdosing.
“At what point are we going to take our kids back and our families back and quit...sweeping things under the rug, just because you don’t want to talk about it or you’re embarrassed by it,” Moreno said at her apartment off South Tucson Boulevard.
Of the ten overdose deaths her extended family has experienced since the 80s, none have hurt more than the death of her sister Yvonne “Tweedy” Mendoza. More than six years since that loss, more of Moreno’s loved ones have died from overdoses.
She wonders who could have been saved if family members were more open about the struggles and shortcomings in order to work through the issues together. Moreno said her family was aware of Mendoza’s addiction to prescription pills, but they didn’t know how bad it was until she was released from treatment.
"She ended up starting with more street drugs and we didn't even know about it," said Moreno.
She didn't hear much from her sister after that, but Moreno can still hear Mendoza's voice. She's held onto the answering machine and tape with her final messages.
"I'm just sorry that it had to be this way," the tape plays. "I want to be friends with you again."
The last one is brief with just the sound of crying.
A cross marks the spots where Mendoza was found overdosing off South Sixth Avenue. She died a week later, according to Moreno.
"She was so much more than someone to be found in an alley like that, alone," she said.
Another cross stands a few feet from the one for Mendoza. Her sister noticed the area is still troubled years after those crosses were placed.
"There was someone shooting heroin on the couch that's there," said Moreno. "It's still happening."
She shares the harsh realities of drugs and addiction with her children. Now Moreno hopes airing her family’s troubles will encourage others to face their own struggles, before it’s too late.