Richard Brian / Special to the Sun
Sunday, May 12, 2019 | 2 a.m.
A jetliner crashes or a terrorist attack occurs, and it dominates the news for days. David Siegel gets that, but what perplexes him is why a more deadly crisis plays out in relative silence.
“There are 200 people a day dying from drug overdoses in the United States alone,” said Siegel, the founder of Westgate Resorts. “That’s a plane crash every day. Why aren’t we talking about that?”
For Siegel and his wife, Jackie, that’s not an academic question. It has deep personal meaning.
In 2015, the couple’s daughter Victoria died of what was determined to be an overdose of methadone and Zoloft, an antidepressant prescription medication. She was 18.
In their mourning, and in honor of their daughter’s memory, the Siegels have become advocates in the fight against America’s drug epidemic. Among their activities, they’ve participated in events like first lady Melania Trump’s March 5 town hall on the issue in Las Vegas and provided funding for distribution of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. They’ve also lobbied for policies like good Samaritan overdose prevention laws, which shield drug users from criminal prosecution if they call authorities and provide aid when a partner overdoses.
In their latest initiative, the Siegels published a book late last year that details Victoria’s struggles with drugs and offers advice for parents, policymakers and children about how to deal with substance abuse.
The book, “Victoria’s Voice,” is built around the girl’s diary, in which she documents her increasing dependence on drugs from an occasional mention to the point where she fills most of a page with the word “Pills” written over and over. The diary is presented as-is, complete with illustrations drawn by Victoria.
During an interview last week at Westgate Las Vegas, where David Siegel is president and CEO, Jackie Siegel said she and her husband decided to publish the diary after learning from a friend of Victoria’s that the girl wanted her to have it in the event of her death.
“It was my daughter’s dying wish,” she said.
The Siegels said they believed roots of their daughter’s drug problems traced to her appearance in the 2012 award-winning documentary about the family, “The Queen of Versailles,” which chronicled the couple’s efforts to build the largest mansion in the U.S.
Victoria was shy and slightly overweight when she appeared in the film, and her parents said she was taunted after its release. To fit in, they said, she began crash dieting and dabbling with drugs.
As Victoria progressed from marijuana to powerful narcotics and prescription medications, the Siegels said they were oblivious to warning signs she was exhibiting. Those included drastic mood swings and long periods spent alone in her room, which her parents now believe were escapes to do drugs.
“I thought drug addicts lived under bridges and slept on park benches,” David said. “What I didn’t know was that the more affluent a family is, the greater the chance they’ll have a drug user in the family.”
To help other parents, the Siegels contributed essays to “Victoria’s Voice” and also offered DEA-approved descriptions of different kinds of drugs.
“I hope it opens (parents’) eyes and encourages them to pay more attention to their child,” Jackie Siegel said.
Meanwhile, David Siegel has turned his attention away from his business dealings and toward combating the drug problem. He advocates for a comprehensive response that includes strengthening the drug treatment safety net, beefing up anti-drug policies in schools and restricting the flow of drugs, particularly the supply of fentanyl from China.
The Siegels also have incorporated the cause into their business. Jackie Siegel was on hand for book signings last weekend at Westgate Las Vegas in conjunction with the Mrs. World Pageant, which was staged at the resort. “Victoria’s Voice” and the Victoria Siegel Foundation were chosen as the platform and fundraising cause for the pageant.
“Victoria’s Voice” is available on Amazon, with all proceeds going to the foundation.
“This is not a book to put on a shelf,” David Siegel said. “It’s one to share.”