In a little over a month, it will be the one-year anniversary that members of the Niles family really do not want to celebrate. That’s because in April, it will mark the day they lost their beloved son, brother and father to a heroin overdose.
Charles Michael Niles, who went by “Mike,” was 53 when he decided to walk into the bathroom and inject the needle containing the heroin that took his life. It’s a story that is beginning to be told too often, but his surviving family members aren’t afraid to share the raw details of what happened to him.
The day Mike died
Karen Petty, 58, and her sister Lori Clark, 53, gathered over the weekend at the shoe-box sized efficiency apartment Petty shared with their brother Mike when he died last April. It’s adorned with family photos, religious and inspiration signs, along with a picture of their brother in a cowboy hat hanging on the wall with a Marlboro Man handsome gaze fixed upon them.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Petty recalled how her brother’s last day on the earth went.
“My dad had just dropped him off and said it had been a good day and they had not had any arguments,” she explained. “Mike told me he had a Narcotics Anonymous meeting that night. A guy came to the door and asked if Mike was ready to to the meeting - it was about 6:15 p.m.”
Petty said the man left and shortly another man showed up asking if Mike was ready. She knocked on the bathroom door and there was no answer - no sounds. The man helped her pry open the door and there was Mike - face blue - slumped over on the floor.
“Mike’s friend helped me pull him out on the kitchen floor and I was doing CPR, but his face was so blue. His friend ran out the door and said ‘he’s dead,’” Petty said. “I called 9-1-1 and the dispatcher told me to keep doing CPR help was on the way.”
Petty has a background in health care and worked at Fort Hamilton Hospital. She realized that her brother likely wasn't going to make it. She never noticed the packaged Narcan (the drug that reverses the effects of an overdose) near the television set. "He never told us he used it," she said.
Mike was transported to the hospital and was pronounced dead - Clark remembers thinking that the sirens weren’t running during the transport when she was en route after and indication that her brother had died.
The journals and drug addiction
Clark choked back tears and she recalled how the family made it to Hamilton from Fairfield and Indiana years ago. She said their father Charles Niles, Jr. and mother Sue along with their other sisters Linda Henry and Maryann Ailes were all painfully aware and trying to combat Mike’s drug addiction.
“He might have done a little weed in the Army back in the 1980s, but he got out and was working as a trucker. He was working in construction when he got seriously injured and then went on disability…that’s when his addiction problems got bad,” Clark said.
Petty said after their brother was hurt in the construction accident he became addicted to painkillers, then harder medicine and resorted to stealing from the family to support his habit - eventually selling - heroin.
“He took a check my father had that was supposed to be for the little league and cashed it at Walmart and also pawned a lot of my mother’s jewelry,” she explained. “It got to the point that we just had to ignore him it was so bad.”
The family was stunned to find journals Mike had written detailing the painful grip drugs had put on his life and the toll it had taken on his family. He had gone through a painful divorce from his wife and hadn’t been connected with his daughter Kelsey, who is now 16, for years.
Clark said the journals detailed the quest Mike was going on to get and stay sober and how he professes a deep love for his daughter. The family in due time, wants to send some of the journals to Kelsey so she can see how much her father loved her.
A family affair
The Niles family is convinced that the legal system has to do more to combat addiction. “He could have been alive if they had jerked his butt into jail,” Clark said, adding, “He was on probation and had a court date before he died. He had been caught selling, but they wouldn’t lock him up.”
Petty added that he had been a “frequent flier,” someone who gets multiple painkilling meds from different doctors in a short period of time. “I told them everywhere what he was doing, but he would just hobble in on a cane and they would give him stronger pain pills. I see where they are coming up with these programs to stop the frequent fliers, but if he’s fallen through the cracks, then how many more out there are doing the same?”
Petty had moved from Franklin to live with Mike shortly before he died. “My brother had nothing on the walls he had sheets over the windows and no food in the house it was like a tomb,” she said. “I could see the marks where he was shooting up, but he had been getting better and adding weight back on. I just wish I could have done more.”
Mike’s sister Linda works within the legal system and Clark said she also was frustrated at not being able to find him more help. “She tried to call pre-trial services to let them know before his court date that he was having serious problems, but she never heard back from them,” Clark explained.
But the family, like many others, is really not interested in pointing fingers. They are more in touch with what they lost and the need for more answers.
“If I had to do it all over again I would be on him all the time,” Clark said. “I think he was lonely. I would have had him over for dinner more often and I would have tried to be his best friend so he wouldn’t need to have called somebody for drugs. If you hang around with the wrong people we know what happens.
Clark is very poignant when thinking about the Narcan that was 15 feet away from her while she was giving her brother Mike CPR.
“I’m not sure that I would’ve have used it if I knew it was there,” she said. “I keep thinking that this drug is just keeping addicts alive so they can just do it again. In the end it wasn’t like we were looking at our brother - it was just seeing an addict.”