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A Place to Turn: Family Loss from a Drug Overdose Death

I just got back from the inaugural retreat of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing), a support group for family and friends of those who have suffered accidental overdose deaths. About 40 GRASP members from around the United States made the trip to Tampa FL, and it was great to meet many folks that up until now I had only known via GRASP's Facebook page.

The retreat combined an opportunity for everyone to connect and participate in some experiential exercises around grief and loss as well as take part in a lively workshop led by the dynamic Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) duo of Meghan Ralston and Stephen Gutwillig. Meghan and Stephen educated us about harm reduction and how the failed public health drug policies of the United States contribute to thousands of accidental overdose deaths every year.

A Public Health Answer

Overdose deaths are now more frequent than motor vehicle accidents in many states. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges the effectiveness of community based overdose prevention programs using the safe, effective, inexpensive drug Naloxone for reducing deaths.  Another option that several states have adopted are Good Samaritan 911 laws which protect from prosecution people who are witnessing an overdose and want to call 911 for help.

Unfortunately our government's public health policies are based on criminalizing drug use and addiction rather than policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights, allowing many of our loved ones to die needlessly.

The death of a loved one is among the most painful to experience as a human being. The death of a child is devastatingly heartbreaking. I must admit that I tend to exaggerate when I'm upset or feel strongly about something, but I think most people will agree that there's no exaggerating here. After the death of a loved one, the comfort from the community is a vital part of the healing process. 

Addiction is a complex disorder that affects 10% of the United States population, with biological, psychological, social and spiritual elements to it. Parents and loved ones have little or no control over the course of the disorder, yet are held responsible for the death by an uneducated community. Sadly, the stigma associated with addiction makes it difficult for families of drug abusers and addicts to find comfort from their communities. They are often faced with harsh judgment and blame rather than compassion. Families and friends have often nowhere to turn.

The Human Face of Public Health Policy 

Public health policies are often debated by wonks who cite facts and figures to bolster their cases.  What’s too often ignored is the face of real human devastation that is reflected in GRASP members lives and the tens of thousands of others who haven’t been able to yet find some support for their suffering. It's tragic that GRASP is virtually the only place to turn for the compassion and concern needed for healing to occur in this type of loss. GRASP has a growing network of support groups nationwide so if you're interested in locating one near you, check out their meeting locations. If a meeting is not nearby, a great alternative is a very active GRASP Facebook page.

Learn More/Do More

Sponsoring the retreat was GRASP's parent organization, Broken No More, which focuses on the policy issues and actions everyone can take. Also, A New PATH (Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing), an advocacy group promoting therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies, was instrumental in making the retreat a success. 

To learn more about our public health policies and how they are affecting us all, check out Drug Policy Alliance for more information.





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