'Beautiful' disaster

By Andrew Knittle

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Sue Martin can almost recall the exact moment she believes led her only daughter into a life of drugs, prostitution and, ultimately, to a premature death inside a stranger’s apartment.

It was the early 1990s. Martin and her daughter, Lorra Hilton, were living in a two-story townhouse in Florida, along with Hilton’s two young daughters.

The two women were watching a rerun of “The Andy Griffith Show” while Hilton’s younger daughter played outside on her tricycle.

“I think it was when ... we didn’t hear the tricycle squeaking,” Martin, 76, said as she struggled to stay composed, her voice thick with emotion.

“We went outside and checked, and she was gone. She had gone to the swimming pool. ... She drowned. We didn’t find her in time. Had her in the hospital for about two months before we had to let her go.”

Hilton received $250,000 from “the insurance companies,” apparently because of a faulty gate, Martin said.

For a while, Hilton worked as a model.

“She was beautiful,” Martin said. “And she was smart. That’s what people always knew her for ... being pretty and smart as can be.”

But Hilton “foolishly” blew through the money, Martin said. In what seemed like an instant, Hilton, who Martin said had no history of substance abuse, was addicted to cocaine.

"It’s just so hard, I guess, to lose your best friend who’s also your daughter.”

“It wasn’t really guilt, she just didn’t think she was a good mother,” Martin said. “It kind of broke her spirit.”

“She wound up ... on the street,” Martin said.

By then, Hilton’s other daughter, Holly, was living with Martin, who had moved back to Del City.

Hilton, pregnant, soon followed.

For the next two decades, Hilton lived the life of an addict. She stayed with her mother most of the time. She bounced from man to man.

On Nov. 2, 2012, a man Hilton was staying with found her dead. Martin said she didn’t know the man but that it was “more than obvious he was an addict, too.”

“He had been making them breakfast. He went in the bedroom and saw that she was gone,” Martin said. “It was two days before her 50th birthday.”

Martin said that investigators working for the state Medical Examiner’s office told her that her daughter died of an overdose of Lortab, a highly addictive opiate painkiller.

Prosecutors allege Hilton and eight others died as a direct result of the careless prescribing practices of Dr. William Valuck. Drug agents say the doctor, who once ran the Vista Medical Center, a pain management clinic in southwest Oklahoma City, was “by far” the state’s top prescriber of controlled dangerous substances in 2013, writing 12,000 more narcotics prescriptions than the second-largest dispenser. In 2012, he was writing narcotics prescriptions at a rate of nearly 30,000 a year.

Martin acknowledges her daughter’s struggles with street drugs, but said she just can’t fathom how Valuck was able to do what he did for so long without being caught. She’s hopeful her story will spur change in the medical community and the state Capitol.

“Something needs to be done … it really, really does,” Martin said on Wednesday, her normally gentle voice turning hard and deliberate.

“If they were just taking one or two of these drugs a day, or whatever, like the doctor supposedly prescribed … then that’s OK. But giving somebody enough Lortab to kill themselves many times over … something needs to be done. That’s wrong. Giving them hundreds of pills at one time … It’s just really wrong.”

Hilton left behind three children and four grandchildren.

In her tidy, three-bedroom home, Martin keeps Hilton’s ashes in a wooden box next to her computer in the living room. She also keeps a collage of photos that was displayed at her daughter’s memorial service. The images provide evidence of Hilton’s downward spiral of addiction.

Just days ago, in her living room, Martin touched one of the photographs showing an unsmiling Hilton staring vacantly at the camera.

“That’s right before she died,” Martin said. “The cops here in Del City would call me all the time because she would be running down the street with no clothes on, hollerin’ that aliens were coming to get her.”

Yet, in other images, there are glimpses of the beauty. The woman who fills Martin with pride. One image in particular, showing Hilton with striking red hair, stands out.

“She was just so beautiful,” Martin said, staring off into the distance for a long moment. “But she was always beautiful to me.”

“She was my best friend. It’s just so hard, I guess, to lose your best friend who’s also your daughter.”

A note from Kelly Dyer Fry
Editor and Vice President of News

Here at The Oklahoman, we are dedicated to making Oklahoma a better place to live, work and raise a family. As you just read, our state has one of the nation's biggest problems with prescription drug abuse. We partnered with Oklahoma Watch to find the gaps in our system, and we’re asking you to work with us to persuade our leaders to find a better solution. You can do this by:

• Visiting the Oklahoma House website to find your legislative representative and let them know
why this is important.

• Share this story
Facebook | Twitter | Google+

• Use the hashtag #AddictedOklahoma

• Join the Facebook group Oklahoma’s Addiction and Mental Health Community to talk with others who are going through or have experienced the same issues.

Join us in the fight against addiction.
Together, we can make a difference.

Go to the special coverage page

Project credits

Writers: Warren Vieth of Oklahoma Watch,
and Jaclyn Cosgrove, Andrew Knittle
and Phillip O'Connor of The Oklahoman

Project editors: Phillip O'Connor,
and David Fritze of Oklahoma Watch

Video: Greg Singleton and David Morris

Photographers: Nate Billings, Sarah Phipps, David McDaniel, Bryan Terry and Steve Gooch

Graphics and illustrations: Todd Pendleton

Website: Richard Hall

Social media: Tiffany Gibson

Newspaper layout: Moran Elwell and Caroline Duke

Copy editors: Glen Seeber and Amy Raymond