Accidents happen, whether they’re car accidents, friendly fire, drug overdoses. Accidents happen, and they’re tragic. It’s like a bomb that goes off and pieces of shrapnel rip into the flesh of the family. It’s the families that need the compassion, because everywhere they walk, every day, someone reminds them of their loss. James Belushi

The death of a close friend or family member from an overdose is often shocking and always painful. But unlike other more “socially acceptable” deaths (e.g., illness, accidents, cancer, etc.), an overdose death often brings guilt, shame, judgment, isolation, ostracization, blame. As Denise Cullen told Kristin Gourlay of NPR after her son Jeff died of an overdose, “no one brings casseroles when a child dies a stigmatized death. People keep their distance because they don’t know what to say.”

Nowadays, overdoses and death can happen the first time someone uses a drug, leaving friends and family members shocked and stunned. In other cases, people die when taking a drug after a long period of abstinence. There’s hope that they’ve beaten their addiction and become their old/former selves. The light has returned to their eyes and life is once again full of possibilities and hope. And then, in an instant, they’re gone.

They may be gone, but what never has to leave is your memory of them for who they really were. The fact that they used drugs doesn’t invalidate all the good in them and their lives. Buster Ross

The words In Loving Memory are written in sandstone with a small bouquet of flowers on the left just above the "L" in lovingAccording to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, drug overdose deaths rose from 16,849 in 1999 to 70,237 in 2017. Deaths from heroin overdose increased by almost eight times during the same period. People are more likely  to die of an opioid overdose than a car accident. And yet, because of the stigma, the grief is often complicated and support can be hard to find. Surviving friends and families are left with so many unanswered questions …

  • What more could I have done?
  • Did I do too much?
  • Could I have prevented my loved one’s death?
  • How did this happen?
  • What if I had …?
  • Why didn’t I just …?

Please do not treat his death as if it was marginal. It was not. It was a life, and he had an light that went out. My heart hurts when something is said without thinking of the impact it has on everyone who is grieving him. Margaret M. Linnehan

The word "SUPPORT" is written in Scrabble tiles, sitting on turned over Scrabble tilesHow can you help someone who’s lost a loved one to addiction?

  • Offer to talk about the person who has died. Say his name. Make it clear you understand that the addiction and death were only a small part of who he was.
  • Show up. Attend the memorial service. Send a card. Drop off a meal. Share stories and memories of the person who’s died. There is no greater gift you can give a grieving family.
  • Avoid judging your friend or family member. She may well already be feeling guilty, ashamed, judged, blamed. Don’t add to her pain.

Three lit lamps in a row on the sand in front of the ocean at sunsetA few of our favorite resources on losing a loved one to a drug overdose:

Single candle sitting on a wood carved fish table in front of the ocean at sunsetThe above links and resources are not maintained by or affiliated with Salt Water. Salt Water does not guarantee the accuracy of the information on these external websites. The diagnosis and treatment of substance addiction and other psychiatric disorders requires a trained medical profession. The information provided above should not be used as a substitute for a professional diagnosis or treatment of any medical or psychiatric disorder. If the information provided on Salt Water leads you to believe that you or someone you know may be need help with a substance addiction, please consult a medical professional.
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