Grieving an Overdose Loss
According to the CDC, in 2018 there were 21.21 deaths per 100,000 people related to drug poisoning each year in Utah. There were 67,367 total drug overdose deaths in the United states in 2018.
Many overdose deaths are related to opioids. Almost 42,000 people in the United States died from opioids in 2016. This is 28% more than in 2015. Overall, Utah ranked 20th in the rate of drug-overdose deaths in 2016—about 22.3 deaths per 100,000 people. Utah is one of 22 states with an overdose rate higher than the national average.
Friends and family members struggle to make sense of the overdose death in someone dearly loved. Grief experts warn that those who have lost someone to overdose death may never fully understand the circumstances of the death.
Families affected by drug-overdose death face unfair social stigma. They frequently lack support from family, friends and the community. If the person who died had a long struggle with addiction, surviving family members may feel bitterness towards failed substance treatment or the criminal justice system.
Society’s message is that someone who died from overdose was in some way a failure. These biases may lead to others devaluing the person’s life, without real information about addiction. Addiction is a powerful and little-understood experience. People affected by drug overdose death should avoid blaming the person who died and avoid self-blame.
For many, the process of grieving a death to overdose includes intense feelings of anger, guilt, and shame. The very senselessness of overdose death makes survivors anxious and filled with doubt. Surviving family members or friends who had been caring for or financially supporting a person with addiction or persistent mental illness who dies by overdose might feel relieved that their responsibility has ended, and then feel guilty for feeling relief. Survivors may experience some or all of these complicated thoughts and emotions, and great care is needed to address them.
Special Resources for Those Grieving an Overdose Death
Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) was formed by parents who lost an adult child to drug overdose to assist other families coping with overdose grief. Visit their website at http://grasphelp.org/ for more information.
Caring Connections offers grief support groups focused on the loss to overdose.