Amonie Palmer died of an overdose on the morning of February 9 in Orange Coast College’s on-campus apartments, The Harbour. Celebrating her 18th birthday just months before on November 19, she was excited about college and a new start.
From May 2019 to May 2020, 81,000 people died from a drug overdose, the highest number of overdoses recorded in a 12-month period. In the first three months of 2020, 19,416 people died from a drug overdose, a 16.4% increase from 2019’s first three months. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think that a lot of people read these reports, even not necessarily about her, but anyone who does die from an overdose. They immediately picture this person who has no teeth, who is disheveled and living on the streets, but that was not her whatsoever,” said Courtney Johnson, Palmer’s best friend.
Johnson remembers the day that Palmer came into her class sophomore year with makeup palettes, asking to put some on her. Palmer had just moved to Winchester.
“That’s kind of how our friendship started — very ‘who is this girl and why is she doing my makeup?’,” Johnson said. “I gravitated towards that kind of energy and we just, ever since then, we were inseparable.”
Hanging out nearly every day, they bonded over their love for Taylor Swift, makeup and doing their hair.
“She taught me a lot about being confident,” Johnson said.
Johnson also remembers Palmer being everyone’s favorite person. “She’d meet anybody, talk to anybody, it didn’t matter who it was, what they looked like, who they liked,” Johnson said. “She would always go to the person who didn’t have friends in the room and talk to them. Her life impacted everyone she came across, even if they didn’t know her.”
Palmer wasn’t a study buddy, especially when it came to geometry, but when the conversation involved music, she was the one to go to. “Math, you cannot talk to her about that; [it] went over her head. But if you couldn’t remember a song, she was like a dictionary of [them],” Johnson said.
One Direction, the Wallows, and Willow Smith were a few of her favorite musical artists. “Pretty much anything that was really good, but I know that she loved One Direction because she thought they were cute,” Johnson said.
In a video shared by Johnson, she asked Palmer, “if you had one wish what would it be?”
Sitting on the beach, in a black t-shirt and cupid choker around her neck, Palmer said, “One wish? To meet One Direction.”
“She was funny and could be a total bitch sometimes, but at the end of the day, her heart was true, she knew who she wanted to be behind the layers of mental illness and a difficult life, everything in between, she’s absolutely perfect,” Johnson said.
Palmer didn’t know exactly what she wanted to major in so she enrolled in general education classes along with one fashion design class. With a heavy interest in fashion, Palmer even thought about making plans to go to New York City to study after OCC.
While Palmer was excited to move out and meet new people, she was also nervous. She was leaving behind what she knew: Johnson, her group of friends and a boy that she really liked. “It was stressful for her, but at the same time, she didn’t have a curfew and she could eat whatever she wanted, wherever she wanted,” Johnson said.
Palmer had been living at The Harbour for less than a month before she died.
“When I think about her, the loss of her and what my life is now lacking, I realized that she was the only person I know and probably will ever know who captivates an entire room just standing there,” Johnson said. “She was very much the center of attention, even if she wasn’t trying to be.”
The coroner ultimately ruled Palmer’s death an accidental overdose due to the lack of evidence pointing towards anything else, but Johnson believes that Palmer’s mental health is what ended her life.
Both Palmer and Johnson were diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental disorder that disrupts the everyday life of those diagnosed by drastic shifts in mood, concentration and energy. This was something Palmer and Johnson were able to lean on and help each other through. “I went to therapy, so I knew how to talk to her about it and I helped her through many situations where she thought the world was ending,” Johnson said.
Affecting approximately 45 million people around the world, bipolar disorder is one of the most common diagnoses. In the U.S. nearly 7 million adults are affected by the disorder annually. According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, 51% go untreated and 15-17% of people die by suicide, making it the leading cause of premature death for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
In August 2020, Palmer attempted to overdose on medication she was prescribed for her disorder, so when her death was ruled accidental, Johnson felt and still feels undecided about it.
“I think about that, the time I had to call 911 to go and get her. She told me that if she were ever to kill herself, she would overdose,” Johnson said. “It wouldn’t be [from a] gunshot or [her] jumping off a building. She wanted it to be what she thought would be peaceful.”
The connection between bipolar disorder and substance use disorder is an important health concern. According to The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, it is suggested that 30% to more than 50% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder will develop a substance use disorder at some point in their life.
In remembrance of Palmer, Johnson and a few of their close friends plan to travel to places she always wanted to visit, including New York to attend a fashion show.
“What is keeping me going right now is keeping her story alive. Not letting it burn out. I’d rather talk about it and cherish her life,” Johnson said. “You gave me a chance to boast about her.”
When Johnson can’t think of a song and it plays on the radio, she knows Palmer is there. “All of our bodies are full of energy so I don’t think that her energy just dissipated and will never be here again. I don’t think she would just go out, you know,” Johnson said.
OCC and the Student Health Center offer resources to help anyone struggling or knows someone struggling with their mental health and/or substance use disorder.