Drugs Have Changed Our World Part III

The faces above and the stories below are a snapshot of the devastating opioid epidemic sweeping across the United States. Publicly acknowledging that a family member suffered from an addiction to drugs, or died of an overdose, has long been a taboo subject — one best kept secret among family and a few knowing friends. That is changing.

As the death toll from the opioid crisis mounts, families are increasingly weaving desperate warnings into the obituaries of loved ones about the horror that can result when people abuse painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.

Many words of remembrance have been transformed into pleas for help — directed at lawmakers, families suffering similar experiences, and the general public. Families are using these public notices to push for better and more treatment options while spreading the message that addiction is a disease and not something to be endured in shameful silence.

STAT searched Legacy.com and other sources and selected excerpts from the obituaries of 52 people who died in 2016. In every case, the families of these mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and even grandmothers decided to make their loved one’s struggle with opioids public in the death notice.

Each person represents the estimated 636 Americans who die on average each week from an opioid-related overdose (based on 2015 data).

Some of the writings are brutally honest. The victims were in and out of jail, often for stealing to support their habit. They could be destructive forces, tearing apart families. There were false hopes produced by periods of sobriety following treatment, only to be followed by relapse.

The victims were found in the woods, in a low-budget hotel, a dorm room, and at home. On the same day in June, two brothers fatally overdosed. In November, a mother lost a third son to an opioid overdose.

Those who succumbed to opioids were also full of hope and promise. They served their country in the armed forces. They were college students, aspiring musicians, athletes, chefs, a race car driver, a high school student, an auto mechanic, a bank employee, and the son of a former US congressman.

They lived in every part of the country, from Arizona to Maine. They are predominantly in their 20s and 30s and white. (The obituaries referencing opioid use are striking for the absence of people of color. That may be in part due to the fact that 8 in 10 people fatally overdosing on opioids are non-Hispanic whites, according to government data.)

Here are more of their stories:


Sam Miller (Sept. 22)

25 years old
College student
Columbus, Ohio

Our beautiful Sammy passed away on Thursday, September 22, 2016, brutally taken by that vicious beast called heroin. … It is unbearable to think he fought this beast alone and, for that, we will cry for him forever … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Columbus Dispatch)

Shawn M. Carter (Sept. 26)

32 years old
Colchester, Vermont

Heroin promised Shawn the world — “I will make you feel accepted and loved and normal — like everyone else. I can make you feel nothing and make you believe that everything will be OK.” What it didn’t tell him is how it would devastate his family and tear them apart, how it would take jobs and places to live, how it would steal his baby girl right out of his arms, how it would take his smile, his laughter, his love for life and it would take and take and take until it took his life … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Burlington Free Press)

Truly Louise McKirgan (Sept. 29)

26 years old
Worked at addiction rehab facilities
Scottsdale, Arizona

Her loss is devastating to many and our wish is that if you have someone who suffers from addiction, you reach out for help for yourself and your loved one. Truly would not want us to cry, she would want us to fight against this horrific disease, as we are proud that she did to the end … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Arizona Republic)


Daniel Lee Rowe (Sept. 30)

38 years old
Baseball fan
Marysville, Pennsylvania

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you discuss the devastating effects of heroin use and addiction with the children in your life. In honor of Dan’s memory, please contact your local legislators to advocate for an increase of funding for addiction and mental health research and treatment … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Patriot-News)

Zachary B. Rozelle (Oct. 5)

30 years old
Worked in construction
Neenah, Wisconsin

Our precious Zach’s story sounds far too common and familiar lately. On October 5, 2016 Zach died of an accidental heroin overdose. We share his story in the hope that it might save others from the incredible heartache we are experiencing … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Appleton Post-Crescent)

Spencer Radel (Oct. 6)

26 years old
Waunakee, Wisconsin

Spencer told us that if his story could help one person, he wanted it told. He came to us in August and asked for help — he was addicted to heroin. He wanted to get clean and get his life back. He successfully completed a 30 day inpatient program and was living at home for a week. Despite his strong desire to live a sober life, he passed away from a heroin overdose at home. His last evening was spent talking with his parents on their front porch, looking forward to a new future, returning to work, talking about his love for his family. The perfect night. And then the unthinkable happened. We will never know or understand why. We can only honor Spencer by sharing this story so that others are aware of the danger and temptation of this horrific drug … read more

(Source: Winn-Cress Funeral Home)

Dakota Knaub (Oct. 15)

28 years old
Hunter and fisherman
Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania

Even through his constant struggle with addiction, he never lost the gifts that God gave him, which were his heart of gold and the ability to show others how much he loved them … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/York Daily Record)

Cory J. Quinn (Oct. 19)

23 years old
Springfield, Massachusetts

The last several years were a struggle for Cory as he battled a heroin addiction, which ultimately took his life. His family is devastated that this heinous drug was more powerful than the love and support that his family gave him. They did not think that this was even possible … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Republican)

Joseph P. Finn (Oct. 23)

22 years old
College student
Haverhill, Massachusetts

He was currently enrolled at UMass Amherst, pursuing a degree in Psychology. Joey loved basketball, football, his dogs, family and hanging out with his friends … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

Andrew Zachary Treiber (Oct. 30)

27 years old
Lansing, Michigan

Andy died too young, due to a battle with heroin addiction, which he fought with great effort. … He was a quiet caring man, athletic, smart, handy and had a great sense of humor. He enjoyed being outdoors, fishing, and playing disc golf … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Bay City Times)

Hayden Scott Graver (Nov. 1)

17 years old
High school student
Battlefield, Missouri

With Hayden’s kind heart and perseverance he fought off his inner demons as long as he could until the morning of November 1, 2016, when Hayden experienced an accidental drug overdose … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/News-Leader)

Jesse M. McCauley (Nov. 6)

24 years old
One of three brothers to die of an overdose
Rockland, Massachusetts

Jesse has struggled with the disease of addiction for the past 6 years along with his brothers Corey (25) and Jordan (20) who also struggled with addiction. Jesse has now reunited with his brothers who await his arrival to heaven … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

Cassidy Aspen Cochran (Nov. 11)

24 years old
Homewood, Alabama

We write this not to dishonor her memory but to shine some light on an illness that is taking the lives of far too many. If we allow shame, guilt or embarrassment to cause this illness to become a dark family secret, hiding in the shadows, everyone loses. … In lieu of flowers, please call or write your state representative and plead with them to make Naloxone available over the counter, without a prescription … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

Emily Marie Harrison Roznowski (Dec. 3)

22 years old
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

At last Emily is at peace, she struggles no more. The disease of addiction thrives in darkness and must be defeated in the light. She is missed more than words can ever express … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Patriot-News)


Jason Scott Mise Jr. (Dec. 10)

22 years old
Akron, Ohio

His family feels that it should be made known that he died of an overdose of Heroin. He struggled with that addiction for a long time. Heroin is the devil on earth. It is taking over the souls of our loved ones at an alarming rate. Losing Jason has broken our hearts, but we find comfort in knowing he is at peace from his struggle … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Akron Beacon Journal)