BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Life as a “party girl” caught up with Beverly Layman in March. She had gone to the doctor to receive a new treatment for hepatitis C. She was excited by the prospect of getting her energy back.
But the blood tests showed it was too late. Layman, 58, was dying.
“The doctor said, ‘I think you need to start looking at hospice.’ That just blew me away,” Layman said. “I thought I was invincible. I thought nothing was going to kill me.”
White women are falling to early deaths at an accelerated pace in America, often because of drugs and alcohol. Some deaths are overdoses that occur in an instant. Others, like Layman’s, are slower and more painful — forcing women to confront the damage they’ve done to their livers.
In a series of interviews in the weeks leading up to her death, Layman described her decades-long struggle with drugs and alcohol, hoping her story would serve as a warning to other women. At 14, she said, she was smoking marijuana. At 15, she was shooting heroin, kicking off a lifelong craving for opioids. By 16, it was crack.
“It all happened so fast,” Layman said. “There you are suddenly, with a needle in your arm, a crack pipe in your mouth.”
She spent several stints in rehab and months, even years, in recovery. But she always went back to the drugs.
Her latest effort to get clean came in 2010. She stopped drinking and taking illegal drugs, and began going to a methadone clinic to help with the cravings. Within months, she was back on the bottle — and taking the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, a benzodiazepine.
A year later, she added opioid painkillers, including oxycodone, which, combined with Xanax and alcohol, can be instantly fatal.
Layman survived, but the damage to her body from both the drugs and the disease was severe. She died March 11 due to complications from liver cirrhosis.
Layman’s funeral was held on what would have been her 59th birthday. At the chapel, her family announced that she had donated $100,000 to a Christian drug-recovery program, called Teen Challenge. A cousin, Jenni Jewett, spoke, telling those gathered that Layman had taken an interest in her when she was young, warning her of the dangers of becoming a party girl.
“I never did any drugs or drank alcohol because of her. She told me to stay away from them,” Jewett said. “Bev, thank you.”