Families Confront the Stigma, Share their Heartache to Save Lives
No more whispering.
That’s the plea Patricia Byrne makes on her blog, “Heroin. Stop the Silence. Speak the Truth,” which has drawn more than 3.2 million hits since its launch last summer.
Bryne, the mother of a recovering heroin addict, puts a human face on the “silent killer:”
“A boy from my old neighborhood died this week. He was no longer a ‘boy,’ he was 26, but to me he was still one of the kids. They ran around in the summer as a pack. You could tell where they were by looking for their pile of bikes.
Scenes from those days of innocence keep flashing through my head – when they went from one house to another, rode their bikes to the playground or to the store . . . Now he’s gone. Heroin stole him.”
The boy next door is among those who die from drug overdose – 129 deaths every day in America. That’s an all-time high, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 61% of those deaths involve an opioid such as heroin.
More families are coming out of the shadows, shedding the stigma of addiction and sharing their sorrow publicly. Many are bone-weary from battling the disease. Heroin addiction has ravaged their loved ones and drained their finances after court fines, rehab stays, hospital emergencies and funerals.
This is how some Americans are grappling with loss, and sharing their truth in heroin’s wake.
To My Daughter’s Drug Dealer
Tina Louden coddles the pale pink urn that holds her daughter’s ashes. It’s a startling selfie that she posted on Facebook along with a bold rebuke:
“To My Daughter’s drug dealer, this is how I spend
my daughter’s birthday now …. how do you live with yourself???
. . . I don’t normally post pics like this but let’s make
this go viral so all the drug dealers see what they are doing to our families.”
Since Louden uploaded the message on August 15, more than 255,000 people have shared her post. Some of the comments blamed Louden’s daughter for doing drugs. Others speculated what kind of upbringing she had that led her to heroin. Drug users thanked Louden for inspiring them to get help, and many people debated whether addiction is a moral failing or chronic disease.
Here’s what an expert from the National Institute on Drug Abuse said in a 2014 interview with drugrehab.org:
“When we talk about addiction, we are dealing with a disease. It’s not just someone who is weak-willed or choosing to go down this particular path . . . We can visibly see, through the use of imaging technology, where drugs bind in the brain and what impact they have on the brain.”
— Dr. Jack Stein, Director of the Office of Science Policy & Communications
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
Relapse rates for addiction are similar to other chronic diseases, Stein said. He notes that Type I diabetics, for example, have a relapse rate of 30 to 50 percent (i.e., compromising their treatment by not taking insulin). For hypertension or asthma, relapse can be as high as 50 to 70 percent. And while someone makes the initial choice to do drugs, addiction alters the neurochemical and molecular structure of the brain, clinical studies show. Judgment and decision-making functions are impaired in people with addiction, and this can fuel self-destructive behaviors.
Louden’s Facebook post generated an outpouring of strong emotions, to which she recently responded: “I can’t thank all of you enough for sharing my photo and for all the kind words. I almost didn’t post this pic but I want all the parents of lost children to know they are not alone and that dealers need to be held responsible for selling poison to our children all over the world. GOD BLESS YOU ALL EVEN THE NEGATIVE PEOPLE.”
A Movie That Ends in Real Heartbreak
A somber parade of people gathers at St. William Catholic Church in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Despite the blizzard outside, they’ve come to film the final scene of a movie from The Mark Wahlberg Foundation. But they’re not actors.
These are the heartbroken survivors of 57 young adults who died from drug overdose. They appear onscreen at the end of the movie “If Only,” clutching photos of their deceased loved ones. It’s a tribute to carefree young people in their prime – playing sports and winning trophies and cuddling their beloved pets.
Families hope the movie “If Only” will spark a national conversation about teenage drug abuse. The short film follows the lives of two boys who develop a prescription drug problem after they experiment with painkillers from the family medicine cabinet. One family seeks help for their son’s drug addiction; the other is in denial.
“I am sure that young adults are experimenting (with drugs), that most of them don’t think this is going to turn into a disease,” says Louise Griffin, who appears in the film. She lost her son Zachary to a heroin overdose that began with prescription pills.
“When we think about prescription painkillers, we think of it as something that’s going to cure us, make us feel better,” Griffin says. “And these pills, when not taken correctly, will kill us.”
To download a free copy of the movie “If Only,” visit: http://dropthemoff.com/ifonly/
Grief Takes A Punch
“Instructors will show you the proper way to hit a heavy bag and then you will release every emotion bottled up inside. LET IT GO!!!!!”
In Massachusetts, many families have been devastated by heroin’s hold. But some mothers are finding a spirited way to vent their anger and release their pain: a boxing support group.
Photo: Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe
Catherine Fennelly started Let It Out, Inc., a boxing support group, after her son Paul died of an opioid overdose in 2015.
They bring their own boxing gloves and hand wraps, and cheer each other as they release their emotions on a punching bag. Let It Out meets at area gyms in Randolph, Haverhill and Braintree, Massachusetts.
“Talking is a great way to express how you feel but to hit something and get all the negative energy out, NOW that is a release,” writes Catherine Fennelly, who started Let It Out to help parents whose families are impacted by addiction deal with their anger, anxiety and sadness. For more information, go to: http://www.letitoutinc.org
Candid Tributes: A Wake-Up Call?
There’s a grassroots movement to confront the stigma of addiction and share the raw truth when people die from drug overdose. Nationwide, families are increasingly candid in obituaries and vigils for addicted loved ones. Before another family is shaken, they want to share their painful journey in the hopes of saving a life.
These are a few of the ways that young people are being remembered.
Credit: WGRZ TV, Buffalo New York
“Somebody loved that girl. She was somebody’s sister, niece, best friend,” says Tiffany Woods about her 19-year-old sister Tasheta, who died of a drug overdose earlier this year. At a vigil for Tasheta, the family spoke frankly about the heroin epidemic and prayed for others on a similar path. See Tasheta’s family speak out about addiction
Kelsey Grace Endicott
Kelsey Grace Age 23, passed away on April 2, 2016, from an accidental overdose. For many years, she fought a heroic battle with addiction. She had been sober for almost ten months, but her disease still had a powerful hold on her. We wish she had recognized the beauty and strength everyone else saw in her.
Kelsey did not want to leave this world. She yearned for a life without fear and pain; a life that would permit her to realize that the world was open for her to explore and that change was possible. During her adolescence, Kelsey hid her vulnerability with meticulously-crafted sarcasm, but in recent years, she had allowed her kindness and compassion to shine – she had found the courage to be herself. It is not true that everything happens for a reason. The reality of Kelsey’s death is devastating, and no possible reason can justify the loss of this beautiful young woman, who had so much to give to the world.
Emmett J. Scannell
1995 ∼ 2016
On April 20, 2016 our 20 year old son, Emmett J. Scannell lost his battle to Substance Use Disorder and died due to a heroin overdose. Emmett had been in recovery and sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for 2 years when he went off to college in late August 2014. Within 6 weeks, heroin came into his and our lives, stole him from us and Substance Use Disorder killed him in only 18 months.
Adored brother of Zachary Scannell and Alice D’Arpino of Mansfield. Beloved son of Aimee Manzoni-D’Arpino (and her husband John A. Manzoni-D’Arpino) of Mansfield and William E. Scannell (and his life partner, Brenda Rose) of Bridgewater; Nephew of Paula Mountain and Brian Mountain of Raynham and Brian Scannell of Raynham; grandson of Peter and Patricia Campos Manzoni of Easton and Paul Scannell and Nora Scannell both of Raynham; loving cousin of Josie Mountain, Scott Mountain, and Carley Scannell all of Raynham.
Emmett was a National Honor Society student who graduated from Bridgewater Raynham Regional High School in May 2014. Unfortunately he is not the first member of his class to die from Substance Use Disorder. Emmett was a sophomore at Worcester State University where he was studying computer science on a full academic scholarship. But most recently he had, and died from, Substance Use Disorder. Emmett was a caring, funny, smart, young man with the potential for greatness. He loved his brother and sister, biking and snowmobiling and had a smile and charm that could light up a room, but it won’t ever again because he had and died from Substance Use Disorder.
You see Substance Use Disorder is not something to be ashamed of or hidden. It is a DISEASE that has to be brought out into the light and fought by everyone. It continues to cut down our loved ones everyday. Please do whatever you can to fight it so that you never have to feel what everyone one of us who has lost a loved one is feeling right now. We all thank you for your condolences and prayers and ask that you continue to pray for Emmett’s soul and our family.
Painting to Heal, Uplift Others
She calls her paintings the “Angels of Addiction.”
Art therapy is a powerful meditation on grief for Anne Marie Zanfagna, who lost her daughter Jackie to heroin overdose in 2014. The New Hampshire artist found peace in painting a colorful, pop-art style portrait of Jackie. “It was like spending time with her,” Zanfagna says. “It provided a lot of comfort.”
Other parents soon asked Zanfagna to paint their children who died from drug overdose. Today, more than 40 families from New Hampshire to California have received a portrait, which Zanfagna donates as part of her non-profit, Angels of Addiction. Her goal is to raise awareness and de-stigmatize the heroin epidemic.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t look at this picture more than once,” says Amanda Jordan of her son Christopher’s portrait. “It makes me feel there is still a piece of him with me.”
To see the drugrehab.org feature story on “Angels of Addiction,” click here.
They Walk to End Overdose
Wearing neon T-shirts with a blunt message — “Stop Heroin” — people are rallying their communities to save lives. Stop Heroin walks have been organized in Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois since May 2013. That’s when Gee and Brittney Vigna founded “Walking for Wellness: Stop Heroin” in memory of their loved one, Nicky Vigna, who succumbed to overdose at age 20.
“This drug took my sister, and I will do anything and everything in my power to take it down,” writes Brittney Vigna on her website. “The only way to stop it from taking more lives is to get people to stop using. Protect yourself, and your children, and talk about this. Educate yourself, your family, and anyone you know. STOP HEROIN.”
All proceeds from the walks go to local drug abuse prevention and education efforts. If you would like to join a walk or start a walk in your community, go to: http://www.stopheroin.org.
Harm Reduction Coalition – How To Recognize The Signs Of An Opioid Overdose
Harm Reduction Coalition – How To Respond To An Opioid Overdose
Drop Them Off – Keeping Kids Safe From Prescription Drugs
Above The Influence – Helping Teens Stand Up To Negative Influences
24-hour helpline operated by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence
24-hour National Drug and Alcohol Abuse Hotline, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a confidential 24-hour hotline for anyone in crisis