This month, USA Today put out a powerful article that delves deep into the family dynamics that surround an addiction. In particular, they zeroed in on overdoses and the fatalities that issues like the opioid crisis have caused Americans. When a loved one dies because of their dependency, it is a devastating experience. And parents certainly have the freedom to be as open or private about it as they please. But a recent movement has been encouraging families to call out the drug and alcohol battles that have taken their loved ones in what are deemed “Addiction Obituaries.”
The USA Today piece started out by highlighting the Ballesty family and, in particular, their matriarch, Dianne. A retired New York schoolteacher, Dianne lost her son to heroin back in 2013 and, out of shame and embarrassment, initially chose not to reveal his cause of death in his obituary. But as the time came closer to go to print, she had a change of heart and called out the dependency that claimed his life.
Her son Peter’s write up was certainly not all doom and gloom. Dianne made a point to celebrate his life, but also rightfully called out the “disease” that took him away at just 32 years old.
“This disease shouldn’t be something that nobody talks about,” she told the outlet. “It needs to be addressed asap so there aren’t more stories like this. It’s the most horrifying epidemic. We wanted people to know that we were never ashamed of Pete. He had a physical illness; addiction is not a character flaw and unless we are open about it there will never be a public dialogue regarding its cause or cure.”
Dianne’s brave gesture got the attention of local media and, ultimately, USA Today. They rightfully called out the fact that in New York, 2,175 drug-related deaths occurred in 2013. Yet only 45 obituaries referenced that fact in the same 12 month span.
The attention the Ballesty family received, though, helped to change those numbers. The local Journal News outlet pushed through an effort that led to a database including search terms for “addiction” in obituaries statewide. As a result, other families have found each other for support and also shared their loved one’s struggles in their obits.
Since the movement began, the stats have changed dramatically. In 2014, the obituary search returned 87 hits. There were 89 in 2015 and within the past 12 months, 144 obituaries mentioned addiction; all detailing how the disease cut short the lives of promising young men and women. We completely understand how this choice may not be for everyone. But by the looks of things, it is helping to fuel support systems and educate families about the true dangers of drugs and alcohol.