T

he 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 their stories:

 

Chad James Heaven (Jan. 5)

28 years old
Army sergeant
Palmyra, New York

Sadly, Chad’s journey through life included experimenting with drugs. He fought his heroin addiction for the last 10 years. Chad’s family would like to raise awareness of this devastating epidemic … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Rochester Democrat and Chronicle)

Kevin Outen (Jan. 10)

24 years old
Enjoyed baseball and fishing
Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania

He successfully completed drug rehab several times, but the craving that comes from true addiction was more than he could overcome. If there is someone in your life battling addiction reach out to them. So many lives are lost every day. The stigma of embarrassment and denial must be overcome … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/York Daily Record)

Phelps

Ryan Phelps (Feb. 11)

30 years old
Computer science degree
Akron, Ohio

Please, if you’re struggling with any addiction, remember there is help available to you. Your family loves you and people want to help you. You can beat this. Don’t make your family bury you and feel they didn’t do enough. This could be you! Love yourself, love your family … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

Gregory W. Colla (Feb. 12)

22 years old
College student
South Windsor, Connecticut

Greg fought a year long, off and on, battle with heroin addiction. … He was set to graduate from UCONN in May, 2016 with a degree in Civil Engineering … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Hartford Courant)

Kory Baker (Feb. 21)

33 years old
Army medic
Rochester, Minnesota 

What started innocently, quickly moved into pain pills, and culminated in heroin. … As painful as it is to write these words, we want the world to know that heroin addiction needs to be an issue at the forefront of our lives. This is an epidemic with an upward trajectory. If you’re using pain meds like OxyContin, please know that they are incredibly dangerous, and can easily lead to heroin … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Post-Bulletin)

Michael T. Brandon (Feb. 21)

27 years old
Fitness buff
Norwich, Connecticut

Mike tried his best to take the steps to change the course of his life but ultimately the enemy schemes and out smarts even the most creative and savvy individuals; as it did to our Mike. Heroin defiles the brain and the person suffers with more and more inability to make sound decisions and follow directions to save himself … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Norwich Bulletin)

Sean Tyler Stem (March 29)

26 years old
Talented skateboarder
Burlington, Vermont

Those in the know about addiction, especially heroin, must share what they know. Families, friends, and the community have to share their pain, their struggles, so others may know and feel less alone, less confused, less shame. Sean’s family can only hope that his death will not be in vain. Can we all, please, come together, love each other? Tear down whatever obstacles are in the way of reaching out, obstacles of fear, loneliness, shame, stigma, and join other friends and family members who see the ramifications of this drug and feel as powerless as we do … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Burlington Free Press)

Samantha Henehan (April 10)

23 years old
Bank employee
Scranton, Pennsylvania

She was kind and loving to all who knew her and was quick to lend a hand to all who were struggling with the disease of addiction. Sammi was beautiful inside and out, the apple of her mother’s eye, and never spoke a harsh word about anyone … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Scranton Times)

Andrew Joseph Lessard (April 10)

24 years old
College student
Austin, Texas

Andy had enrolled in community college in August of 2015, studying Power Technology and was finally on a good path. He received a 4.0 in the fall semester, something he was immensely proud of. He retreated back into depression and anxiety in the spring semester of 2016, finally succumbing to a fatal heroin overdose … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Santa Clarita Valley Signal)

Zafer Julian Estill (April 14)

19 years old
College student
Pittsboro, North Carolina

He studied business at University of Colorado at Boulder. He loved fashion, and fine things, and worked a wide number of jobs, from archaeological surveying to carpentry to sustain his high-flying lifestyle … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The News & Observer)

Scott Sousa (April 26)

28 years old
Restaurant and construction worker
Rochester, New Hampshire

Recently, Scott was on a wait listed to enter a clinic designed to help people overcome drug addictions. He was looking forward to starting his life over. Like many addicts waiting for intervention, Scott’s addiction led to his drug arrest landing him in the Rockingham County jail in Brentwood, N.H. It was here that Scott was discovered unresponsive April 21. Knowing that bringing light to where there is darkness helps one heal, Scott’s parents opted to turn their tragedy into a gift of life for others. Their son became a hero April 26 donating to others awaiting lifesaving transplants … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Seacoastonline.com)

Travis A. Colton (April 27)

29 years old
Entrepreneur
Russellton, Pennsylvania

Travis battled a demon for roughly the last seven years. She made him feel inspiration for only a brief moment in time and then she was gone. Travis chased her and she had his heart. He fought to leave her and eventually left her many times and was better, but she always made her way back into his presence and the cycle would repeat itself. Eventually she took Travis’s life. Heroin. She has taken the lives of many. We are not alone. This is an epidemic that is in fact a disease and it needs to be treated as such … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Valley News Dispatch)

Kathryn Virginia Sophia Mason (May 14)

19 years old
Equestrian
Nashville, Tennessee

Katy’s bright future was lost to a life of drug addiction, starting at the age of 15. The epidemic state of drug addiction is the country’s biggest problem at this time, rapidly taking the lives of our children … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Tennessean)

Elizabeth D. Blunt (May 25)

22 Years Old
Athlete and musician
West Chicago, Illinois

Beth loved sports. She played soccer and volleyball and loved cheering for the Blackhawks. She loved the outdoors. She loved music. She played the piano, flute, guitar, and sang beautifully … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

James H. Helmer (May 25)

38 years old
Race car driver
Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

James started using prescription pain medication and became addicted. He turned to heroin to try to make himself feel better because the pain of withdrawal was so sickening. … Heroin was more powerful than words a mother could say to her dying son; more powerful than a five year old boy could say to his dying dad. It is strong but it can be beat. Don’t wait until tomorrow … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

Lisa Marie Andreana (June 1)

22 years old
Accomplished pianist
Newington, Connecticut

It is the family’s hope that the cruel disease of addiction will trend toward a broader degree of acceptance and de-stigmatization and a sense of urgency will be brought to this brutal health crisis affecting so many families. Lisa was a strong willed young lady who tried to fight addiction her way but ultimately lost the battle … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Hartford Courant)

Daniel M. Wheeler (June 2)

34 years old
Cook
Sylvania Township, Ohio

No one sets out to be a heroin addict, Dan did his best, he will be forever loved, missed, and remembered … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Toledo Blade)

Jonathan Woodbury (June 11)

33 years old
Older brother fatally overdosed on same day
Pembroke, Massachusetts

Lost his battle with addiction on June 11, 2016. Loving father … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Patriot Ledger)

Michael Woodbury (June 11)

37 years old
Younger brother fatally overdosed on same day
Pembroke, Massachusetts

Lost his battle with addiction on June 11, 2016. Beloved son … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Patriot Ledger)

Jason Philip Rynearson (July 4)

34 Years Old
Chef
Oshkosh, Wisconsin

This handsome, bright, and caring young man was taken from all of us, much too soon. If you know someone struggling with addiction or have lost someone to it and are searching for help, below are some, of the many organizations that are available … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Fond du Lac Reporter)

Alec Clayton Howe Dougan (July 6)

23 years old
Poet/music enthusiast
Manchester, Connecticut

Alec loved spending time with his family and could get us all laughing so hard we had tears in our eyes. He had a chance to do that the weekend before he died, at a big Saturday wedding with his father’s side of the family. Sunday was spent at a 4th of July picnic with his mom’s side. … I thought we had made it to the other side; but it was just his last gift to us, and I thank him for that. He relapsed in the following days … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Hartford Courant)

Samantha Joanne Grajcar (July 12)

22 years old
Daughter
Newington, Connecticut

She is also survived by a lifetime of schoolmates, close friends and tons of people in and out of recovery. Some of whom are still struggling with addiction … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Palm Beach Post)

Tanita Landry (July 14)

31 years old
Singer and songwriter
Salem, New Hampshire

She was a talented singer, songwriter and artist and she was an excellent athlete. Tanita enjoyed playing the guitar and loved animals … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Union Leader)

Johnnie Rae Criss (July 20)

52 years old
Grandmother
Mansfield, Ohio

Johnnie will not be defined by her addiction, but rather by the many years of loving life and living it to the fullest. … She was joined in death just two days later by her husband, Robert L. Criss, also of an overdose … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

Alex Thomas Zimmer (July 23)

27 years old
One of nine children
Tolland, Connecticut

Alex had been working very hard for the past 2 1/2 years to get his life on track and overcome this terrible addiction. The family requests that everyone spread the word of this horrific epidemic taking our children. Please talk to your children repeatedly about the danger of drug addiction … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Journal Inquirer)

Jesse Lee Sparks (July 25)

34 years old
Son
Madison, Wisconsin

Substance abuse is not something to be ashamed of or hidden. It’s a disease that has to be brought into the light and fought by everyone. It takes our loved ones every day! Please do whatever you can to fight the disease so you never have to feel what every one of us, who has lost a loved one, is feeling right now … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Madison.com)

Sean Cameron May (July 27)

29 years old
Graphic artist
Lake Worth, Florida

Sean died peacefully at his home in Lake Worth on July 27, 2016 yet another victim of south Florida’s heroin epidemic. … He was smart, funny and full of talents but graphic arts and film editing were among his most notable … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Palm Beach Post)

William Cliffton Carroll Bullock (July 30)

36 years old
Avid outdoorsman
Raleigh, North Carolina

As big and strong as Cliff was he became a victim of the heroin epidemic that has swept our nation. Pray for Cliff and all of those people who are victims of this horrible drug … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/News & Observer)

Justin M. Finnerty (July 30)

26 years old
Avid sports fan
Towaco, New Jersey

At the young age of 26, he succumbed to his struggle with heroin. … All throughout his life and High School career he loved to play Soccer and Basketball. He also enjoyed shopping and had a passion for music … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Daily Record)

James Thomas Doucette III (Aug. 20)

27 years old
Cook
Plaistow, New Hampshire

James was employed as a cook for local restaurants and had been most recently employed at Athens Pizza in Haverhill. James was full of life and truly loved his family and friends. A gun enthusiast, he enjoyed cooking, playing the drums and bass, listening to music, hiking, and taking trips to the mountains and the ocean … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

Wayne Curtis Weldon Jr. (Aug. 29)

35 years old
Son of former US congressman
Boyertown, Pennsylvania

Like too many people, Curt struggled with addiction to prescription opioids and benzodiazepines and worked through several rehab programs, but could not shake the negative spiral that is common to people suffering with addiction. Curt’s love for his family and his son never wavered as he strived to control the disease that confronted him on a daily basis … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Daily Times)

Erik J. Honse (Sept. 2)

44 years old
Auto mechanic
Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania

Everyone admired his work ethic, his handsome looks, his charismatic personality and his many talents. Unfortunately, Erik was caught up in the web of addiction, and had actually been clean for many months before a powerful strain of heroin cut his life short … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Greensburg Tribune Review)

Michael Anthony Crocco III (Sept. 2)

21 years old
Son
Pompano Beach, Florida

In life, one little decision can make a huge impact not just on you but also those that love and care for you. Michael had everything a young man could want. But once drugs took control in his life they changed him, destroying so much of the hope and promise in his future. Ultimately he lost his battle, and is now another heartbreaking reminder of the heroin epidemic in this country … read more

(Source: Kraeer Funeral Home)

Derek Stephen Crowe (Sept. 8)

26 years old
Chef
Gorham, Maine

Derek worked in several restaurants in the Portland area as a line and sous chef, most recently at Boone’s on Commercial Street. He was very bright and a hard worker. He was very proud of the fact that he could be dropped into complicated and stressful cooking situations and perform admirably … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/Portland Press Herald)

William M. Waggaman Jr. (Sept. 12)

26 years old
Comic book enthusiast
St. Paul, Minnesota

A bright, handsome, and magnetic young man, Willie struggled gamely for six years with opioid addiction. He was living in a sober community at the time of his death … read more

(Source: Legacy.com and Pioneer Press)

James R. Gimenez (Sept. 16)

32 years old
Father of two
Cleveland, Ohio

Died as a tragic result of the heroin epidemic … read more

(Source: Legacy.com/The Plain Dealer)

Erin Michelle Carey (Sept. 18)

33 years old
Caretaker
Battle Creek, Michigan

She spoke frequently of the sadness she felt for people who were as inexperienced as she was, stepping into the struggle that she has fought so hard against, simply out of curiosity and naïveté. If Erin could have walked away, she would have. … Now that Erin is no longer with us, if her passing can be the example that keeps someone from even trying heroin, she would volunteer her story in a heartbeat … read more

(Source: Legacy.com)

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
Carpenter
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)

Rowe

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
Carpenter
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
Son
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
Husband
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
Engaged
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
Mother
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)

Mise

Jason Scott Mise Jr. (Dec. 10)

22 years old
Musician
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)

Leave a Comment

Please enter your name.
Please enter a comment.

  • Because of the deaths among addicts, intractable pain patients are now being denied Rx-opioids to manage their painful conditions. It’s a tradgedy that some people get addicted, but not everyone does. Only a small percentage of pain patients become addicted, many have taken opioids for years or decades without problems. Now the sickest and weakest citizens, including disabled people, are being cut off the meds that allowed them to have active lives instead of being crippled by pain. Many have already ended their lives, and their families often face a stigma as well. Intractable pain patients face the stigma of being called addicts, even though they do not engage in addictive behavior. Many intractable pain patients are now planning suicides as the furor over the abuse of opioids causes more and more doctors to stop prescribing opioids for pain. Others have been driven to the streets and overdose on hard street drugs. Intractable pain causes many health threats incuding brain damage and sudden death. We hear a lot about addicts, but the intractable pain patient has been all but forgotten. Their deaths matter too.
    https://medium.com/@ThomasKlineMD/suicides-associated-with-non-consented-opioid-pain-medication-reductions-356b4ef7e02a

  • My Heart goes out to those families who lost loved ones to heroin addiction. My brother struggles with a heroin addiction and has been clean for 20 months, but says everyday is a struggle. Let’s pray for each other that we can rest on GOD’s shoulders and that the message gets out that HEROIN IS A DEADLY MONSTER. GOD be with you all.

    • As they say in the rooms no reason your brother can’t be a first time winner. The losers are the ones who say “I’m a chronic relapser, can’t do nuthin’ about it, it’s God’s will, not my will”. Bullshit.

  • tim matheson, his cousin been 9 months later and their coworker dan wheeler . all within about a years time . Lord have mercy and please give them your great grace!