In 2016, Victoria Lau overdosed in her car in Windsor Township while her infant son was in the backseat. Now, she’s doing well in recovery — and wants to share her story to help other people.York Daily Record
(Photo: Ty Lohr, York Daily Record)
Victoria Lau woke to two emergency medical technicians standing over her in the Windsor Commons Shopping Center, and she felt as if everything was crumbling.
Eight days earlier, Lau graduated from what was then-called York County Drug Treatment Court. She was on the way to a new beginning.
But in an instant, because of one decision, it all came crashing down.
She had overdosed in her car. Her son, then 4 months old, was crying in the backseat. It was 29 degrees outside. The EMTs asked her if she’d done heroin. “Yes,” she replied.
Now, about two years later, Lau, 25, of Wellsville, is doing well in recovery. She’s moved to pick up the pieces and rebuild her life. She said she wants to share her story to let people who’ve gone through similar experiences know that it’s never too late to change and rebuild — and that they don’t have to keep living the same way.
“You have to help others to help yourself,” Lau said. “By me getting my story out there — I’m not embarrassed to talk about it anymore.”
Lau’s first experience with prescription painkillers came at 17.
She was outside in flip-flops with a puppy. The grass was wet. She fell, and her left ankle “went the wrong way.”
Lau underwent surgery — she received a plate and screws in one side, and a screw in the other. She also got her first prescription. She doesn’t remember being warned about the risk of addiction.
At 19, Lau recreationally started using painkillers. She said she didn’t have a good reason. She liked the way the drugs made her feel — how they numbed everything.
Later, Lau dislocated her wrist in a motorcycle accident. By then, she’d already developed a problem. But the doctors didn’t know. They gave a script for Oxys — “the best win,” she said, for someone who’s addicted to opioids.
It spiraled from there.
When one is in the throes of addiction, Lau said “it makes you somebody that you’re not.”
She told herself that she’d never put a needle in her arm.
But she later did.
Heroin is cheaper. It’s easier to find.
“It’s not like you decide, you know, ‘I’m going to grow up and be a heroin addict,’” Lau said. “Unfortunately, it happens to people. And it doesn’t discriminate. It happens to all ages.”
Like many people who struggle with addiction, Lau said she eventually caught charges — criminal conspiracy to commit possession with intent to deliver heroin and codeine. She went to rehab four times. Eventually, she was removed from supervised bail and sent to York County Prison.
Next, Lau was accepted into York County Drug Treatment Court. She completed the program in 13 months. She said she had every intention of staying clean.
Relapse isn’t part of everyone’s story. But it is, she said, for some.
Treatment court graduation, she said, can be a treacherous time for a lot of people.
“I’m free. This ball and chain is gone,” Lau remembered thinking of no longer being under court supervision. “No drug testing. No probation officer. There’s nothing over me now.”
The ceremony was held at what was then the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. She thanked her mother. Lau recalled how the organizers showed everyone’s mugshot — she didn’t think she’d have another one.
Then came Dec. 9, 2016.
It was a Friday. Pay day. Lau had just gotten off work and picked up her son. She then went to get heroin.
“Just like a person would want to get a beer after work, that’s my drug of choice, unfortunately. So that’s what I did. And, unfortunately, that’s what happened,” Lau said of the overdose. “I don’t have a good answer for it. There’s no excuse for it.”
Witnesses saw her son crying in the backseat for about 20 minutes and alerted authorities.
An EMT revived her with naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an overdose and is commonly marketed under the brand name Narcan. Law enforcement later said the substance tested positive for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that’s more powerful than heroin. Lau’s son was not hurt.
Lau mentally prepared to go to state prison.
Prosecutors were asking for a sentence of one to five years. They alternatively recommended state intermediate punishment, which would’ve required her to serve at least seven months.
But she reminded herself that would be nothing compared to her son losing his mother forever. She would’ve served the time with dignity. Of course, she said, the punishment was due.
“My son almost didn’t have a mom. And that will haunt me every day,” Lau said. “I regret that decision. But thank God he was in the car. Or I might not have been revived.”
T.L. Kearney, Lau’s attorney, agreed that incarceration was necessary — but pushed back against the request. He said his client was now “a beacon in treatment and in our community.”
Common Pleas Judge Maria Musti Cook sentenced Lau to serve five years on probation, with the first 90 days in York County Prison. She was also ordered to perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $2,500 fine.
Lau was overcome with emotion. She felt like she didn’t deserve the lighter sentence.
With the punishment, Lau was able to remain in York County. She could have contact visits with her son, whom she’s raising. Still, she had to watch him take his first steps while in jail.
She said her boss — who’s one of her “biggest supports” — picked her up and dropped her off every day at the York County Prison Work Release Center.
Lau also connected with Cheryl Peterson, who runs Closet 2 Career, and offers a mentorship program for incarcerated women.
Earlier, Lau said she had signed up for an intensive outpatient program. The counseling sessions helped her grasp the concept that it comes down to a simple decision: “I’m going to be clean. I’m not going to use.”
“That euphoria that people chase, it’s not worth dying over,” said Lau, who’s now been clean for almost two years. “That’s for sure.”
After serving time for dealing drugs, Cheryl Peterson developed a one-on-one mentoring program to help other women transition from prison life back to society. Chris Dunn, York Daily Record
Recently, Lau shared her story at Donegal Presbyterian Church in East Donegal Township, Lancaster County. She said she hopes to do so again, telling her son, who’s now 2, at an appropriate age.
Today, Lau said she keeps her circle small. She’s not on social media. She’s worked to rebuild trust with her co-workers and family members and learned to love herself again.
Peterson said Lau is doing “extremely well.” She’s dedicated to herself and her family — something that’s evident with her behavioral change…
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