Family References Heroin Overdose In Obituary of Teen Daughter

By McCarton Ackerman 09/09/15

Dorothy and Fred Shuemake didn't hesitate to talk about their daughter's addiction.

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The tragic heroin overdose death of an Ohio teenager has attracted even more attention by her parents stating the cause of death on her obituary.

Alison Shuemake, 18, and her boyfriend, Luther David Combs, 31, died together on Aug. 26 from their overdoses. Shuemake’s mother, Dorothy, was expecting them over to do laundry the night before. The couple’s roommate called in the middle of the night to alert them of the emergency situation and when Dorothy arrived, she saw that both were “definitely gone” and found a needle on the floor next to them.

Dorothy and her husband Fred directed the funeral home to begin her obituary by stating that she died of a heroin overdose. Combs’ family also made the same decision a few days later when deciding to publish theirs.

“There was no hesitation," said Dorothy to NBC News. "We've seen other deaths when it's heroin, and the families don't talk about it because they're ashamed or they feel guilty. Shame doesn't matter right now. What really matters is keeping some other person, especially a child, from trying this ... We didn't want anybody else to feel the same agony and wretchedness that we're left with.”

Although heroin deaths have quadrupled nationally in the U.S. over the last decade, it’s rare to hear them be acknowledged in obituaries. The website, which lists obituary from over 1,500 newspapers, only included a handful of references to heroin in the last month.

But unfortunately, more parents acknowledging overdose deaths in such a public manner is becoming more common. Last April, New Hampshire native Tom Parks penned the obituary for his 24-year-old daughter, Molly, who died of a heroin overdose after several rehab stints. He urged friends and relatives of addicts to “please do everything you can to be supportive.”

In June, the family of 22-year-old Clay Shepherd detailed his drug use in his obituary and wrote that “we loved Clay with all of our hearts, but we now know that was not enough to shield him from the world ... his ability to hide and disguise his addiction proved superior to our parental (and sibling) sixth sense."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.