Mourning an addict’s death in the midst of stigma

The opioid and opiate epidemic is taking lives at an alarming rate. How can those mourning a loss cope? Suggestions here.

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Put yourself in these shoes

Imagine this scenario: Your child dies from lung disease at age 22. When people hear how they died they tell you “Well, serves him right.. those smokers deserve to die.” Somehow minimizing the traumatic event that you have just gone through.

This is a reality that many parents face today.

Staggering Statistics

In 2015 there were 1531 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts alone. That is an 18% increase from 2014. The increase from 2013 to 2014 was 41%.

Worldwide approximately 187,000 people die of a drug related overdose. That is close to 200,000 people a year who had dreams, aspirations, a family, and I think may be the saddest thing of all: they had something to contribute to society.

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Please read more about these statistics here: 2016 World Report.

Society’s contribution to the stigma

Everyday there is a new picture circulating on the internet of an overdosed mother, father, son, brother, uncle.. human being.. and everyone gets out their pitchfork to unleash the shame. If a kid is involved?

“She or he should never be able to see that child AGAIN!”

“Oh, they died? Well.. GOOD!”

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“Another scum ridden from the earth.”

WOW! No wonder why these families feel the need to hide the reason their loved one had died. By the way, these are actual comments, from other human beings, about other human beings. It. Makes. Me. Sick.

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Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Now the criticism turns to their loved ones.

Somehow, after these addicts die everyone has these theories as to WHY they were an addict. It must have been the parents! Or her boyfriend was the one that got her into it. Therefore, inadvertently admitting to the fact that their ADDICTION was caused by something EXTERNAL and therein is CURABLE.

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Nurture vs. Nature right?

So really… all of you out there saying that addicts should die and then criticize the way they were brought up.. you are all hypocrites. Congratulations on continuing to keep yours and anyone you influence eye’s closed.

Open your eyes and talk about addiction

We are robbing these families a proper mourning of their loved one. We are also doing a disservice to the deceased by not talking about this epidemic. And the GREAT lives that it has taken from us.

How would I know?

In the past 12 months alone I have personally known 10 men and women who have unintentionally overdosed on heroin. Their families were heartbroken. The youngest one was 19 — oldest was 35. I think one out of those 10 families publicly admitted the cause of death. Everyone else? They only talked about the cause of death to the people closest to them, they knew. Otherwise, it was not ever mentioned.

These families do not want other families to go through what they have gone through. But they cannot openly come out trying to help others because they will get ridiculed. Shame on us as a society that we could be so judgmental that families are afraid to grieve in the way they wish to grieve.

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I have spoken to three (3) families who have lost a loved one to an overdose who wish to remain anonymous. Each of them with a sad story and a broken heart. These people were in the middle of mourning but wanted to talk to me to get their voice heard that something has to be done.

“Stop stigmatizing our children,” one heartbroken mother said.

“No one helped him,” a grieving sister announced.

Each of their stories made me even more passionate to write this article.

If you do not want to honor the deceased, fine. But the least you can do for these poor families is allow them to openly mourn. To stand up against this epidemic. Let them have their voices heard.. because believe me, yours have been heard enough.

5 ways to grieve your loss

Are you going through the loss of a loved one to overdose? Here are five (5) suggestions that we have for you to get through it.

1. Seek out support groups.

Go to your local library, police station, or town hall to see if there are any groups in or around your area that offer support to other family members grieving the loss of an overdose victim

2. Don’t be ashamed.

Let your voice be heard (When you are ready). Myself and the addiction community stand behind you and will not let your loved one’s death go unnoticed.

3. Reach out.

Reach out to family members, friends, friends of the deceased.. Try to understand more about the addiction side of it.

4. Cry.

It’s OK. Do not allow the negative cognitions that are attached to the stigma of addiction not allow you to cry. You lost your loved one.

5. Honor your loved one.

Talk about the manner of death (not details). Advocate for this awful epidemic to end. Make sure no other person has to go through what you go through.

About the author
Kayla is a freelance writer and entrepreneur with a passion for helping people overcome their addictions. After having been an addict herself, she decided she wanted to give back to those still struggling. Her expertise include: Medical Marijuana, Drug Addiction, Drug Abuse, ACOA, Meditation, DRT, law reform for non-violent drug offenders, overcoming grief, the 12 steps, NA, AA, plus more. She has contributed to many blogs trying to raise awareness to this epidemic.


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  1. The stigma is not the focus that is only barrier from the truth. The truth is social isolation. This happens early on in all of our lives. It happens in all those places we are somehow raised to believe are safe. It happens at home, church, school, and hospitals. People are social creatures and what they need is human connection even the non addict needs. Addiction is part of the problem. Let’s flip that thought and think of ALL of the solution. One can type until your fingers fall off typing about the problem. The solution is simple and what makes it complicated is the silence. Think for one second for the loss of someone you can never hold or can’t hold them because they hate you for trying to help them. Some say you are in my prayers that is a good one! Where were the prayers when the loved one was the person that was huggable. Would you really walk up to your brother in the Boston Commons who has been there for the better part of twenty years smelling like urine. Would you really hug your son when he is explaining how he is going to change if he gets out of this court case? When the addict is lost past that point where they can’t return to the bridge that is no longer there because they blew it up with stealing and half truths. Trust is only given to those who earn it and silence is in no way a building block to open discussion. Loving someone who is an addict is one hard task to endure. Taking care of yourself is what must become a priority when you step out that door at the start of your day. Bring yourself to the place where the silence is no longer loud. The solace place I find is in being available to those who are worthy of my love and forgiveness. The simple solution to a complicated problem is love and compassion and for many being born into war and poverty being able to walk out that door in a world full of hate and disparity bringing peace in a world like this is more that challenging it is a monumental feat. It takes courage to change and bravery isn’t for the weak. Many more addicts are going to die today but the silence of their death is a shameless mess created by a society set up to fail. I am only one voice that will only ring out to ears willing and ready to listen. No addict seeking recovery need never have to die! The vain part of their death is not being there when they were alive and that is a society problem! Being kind but cautious is my best advise. Taking care of yourself in a world stigmatized by silence that is so loud and quite obvious. Speak up but don’t waste your words on deaf ears!

  2. Mary, I am so sorry that you have been affected by this horrible disease. I hope your son finds the help he needs and gets better soon. Keep reaching out and reading.. 🙂

  3. Well said ! I have a son who is addicted . I hate people saying cruel things about he’d be better off dead ! If he suffered from anoxia, bulima, etc they would not say things like this . People are cruel . Families of addicts are treated as if they are the cause .

  4. Thank you for writing this, I bawled my eyes out reading it. I lost my little brother KennyBoy on June 27th 2016 to an accidental overdoae,his heroin was laced. Its been an awful few months and it doesn’t help when people say iggnorant things because they just don’t understand. And not that it matters because it won’t bring him back anyway. I just needed to hear that its okay to talk about it and he was a wonderful kid only 23 . I miss him everyday. Thank you for some words of support, I’ve shared this in hopes it opens the minds of others. God Bless.

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