TAMPA, Fla. — Mike Ortoll describes his daughter Christine as loving, a tough athlete, and the light of his life. He never pictured he would read the eulogy at his daughter’s funeral — one she wrote herself.

What You Need To Know

  • Christine Ortoll, a 26-year-old Tampa resident, died from a fentanyl overdose in November 2020

  • Over the course of 10 years, Ortoll spent time in more than 20 rehab centers

  • Ortoll's journal entries tell the story of her battle with addiction in a new film premiering in Tampa

  • The Christine Ortoll Foundation aims to educate people about substance abuse and mental health

“My sweet, beautiful little girl, I can’t believe she’s been taken from us,” Mike read. “She was the best daughter in the world and no one can take her place in my heart.”

The pages of Christine’s journals give Mike a glimpse into his daughter’s mind and the demon she fought with every day.

A decade-long battle with addiction sent Christine, a Tampa native, to over 20 rehab centers. After being sober for close to three years, Christine overdosed on fentanyl at 26-years-old.

“You don’t want to be a dad or a mom or anybody reading these,” Mike said, holding Christine’s journals. “But I knew people could learn.”

A piece of art created by Christine seven months before her overdose inspired the name of the film. (Brian Rea/Spectrum Bay News 9)

More than two years since her death, Christine’s journal entries chronicle her battle with substance abuse and mental health issues in a new film called “One Second at a Time: Battling the Monster of Addiction.” It’s named after a piece of art Christine made seven months before her death.

Mike said he never planned on taking on a project like this, but it became a way for him to cope and feel connected with his daughter.

“There was a lot I knew. There was a lot I didn’t know,” he said. “I set off the last year and a half, two years to really learn as much as I could, to be able to add as much value as possible.”

Director and producer Tim Searfoss said it was a big undertaking to boil down the complexities of Christine’s story to an 80-minute film that would connect with every viewer.

“I wanted people to learn what I had learned,” Searfoss said. “I think the biggest takeaway was the role that trauma plays in someone who’s suffering from substance abuse. For so long, we’ve been dealing with putting a Band-Aid on it instead of talking about the real, core issue.”

Mike Ortoll describes his daughter, Christine, as the light of his life. (Photo provided by Mike Ortoll)

Deaths from drug overdose are five times higher than they were two decades ago, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Experts point to other drugs being laced with fentanyl as the reason for the dramatic rise. The lab-made opioid is 100 times more powerful than morphine and only requires a small amount to overdose, according to NIDA.

In her journals, Christine wrote she didn’t want to be defined by addiction, rather help those who are also struggling. Before her death, she did that by working at recovery centers. In 2021, Mike started a foundation in his daughter’s name to carry out her wish and educate people about substance abuse and mental health.

“To be able to take that love that I have for my daughter and use that energy to give back in a way that she wanted to do, it’s like I’m finishing her unfinished work,” he said. “And unbeknownst to me, that’s turning into my life purpose.”

The Christine Ortoll Charity is working to expand college recovery programs, introduce awareness initiatives in primary school and increase access to treatment programs in marginalized communities.

During her time in recovery, Christine wrote letters to her younger self, family members and wrote her own eulogy. (Brian Rea/Spectrum Bay News 9)

While Mike said he feels his daughter’s bright spirit with him every day, the pain of losing her will never go away.

“I miss one of the most beautiful little girls, the most beautiful daughter a dad can have,” he said. “I loved her more than anything.”

“One Second at a Time: Battling the Monster of Addiction” premieres at the Tampa Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 27. The screening is free and will be followed by a Q&A session.