Parents Of Opioid Epidemic Named Citizens Of The Year

By Kelly Burch 01/07/19

A New Hampshire paper has named the “parents of the addiction crisis” as the citizens of the year for 2018.

parent of a woman with addiction named citizen of the year

In New Hampshire last year, 437 people died of drug overdoses, a significant number in the small state. Many of them were young adults who left behind parents who were unable to save them, despite their best intentions.

Now, a New Hampshire paper has named the “parents of the addiction crisis” as the citizens of the year for 2018.

“The selection honors parents who have lost children to overdoses — and others whose loved ones have found recovery — but who are striving to help other families find hope and healing,” Shawne K. Wickham wrote in a piece for The New Hampshire Union Leader explaining the selection. “Most do that work quietly, out of public view. They run support groups and volunteer at recovery centers. They raise their grandchildren, postponing retirement in favor of parenting a second time around. Others have shared their stories publicly, reaching out in hopes of sparing other families their grief.”

After Susan Messinger’s son died of a fentanyl overdose in 2014, Messinger and her husband John (who passed away suddenly last fall) threw themselves into advocacy and awareness in hopes that other parents would never need to experience a loss like theirs.

“It may look like we’re OK; you see us in the grocery store, Walmart, wherever. We’re there, we’re putting one foot in front of the other; we may have a smile on our face that day or we may look sad,” Messinger said. “But our heart is broken inside and it’s never, ever, ever going to be together again.”

Jim and Anne Marie Zanfagna lost their daughter to an opioid overdose in the fall. Anne Marie has since painted 180 pictures of people who have died from drug overdoses.

She calls the series “Angels of Addictions.” It has now been displayed around the state and led the Zanfagnas to found a nonprofit by the same name to raise awareness and cut stigma. They want to encourage other people to be open about addiction. 

“Speak about this,” said Jim Zanfagna. “Let people know what’s going on. Maybe we can save some lives.”

Charles “Chucky” Rosa has been speaking out since his two sons died of drug overdoses more than 10 years ago. Recently he has seen more and more parents doing the same. 

“I used to be the only member of the club that nobody wants to be part of,” he said. “Now there’s so many people that have lost children.”

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) said that New Hampshire parents have shown resiliency in the face of crisis.

“So many families have courageously shared their experience of losing a loved one, which has been instrumental in destigmatizing substance use disorders and raising awareness of the magnitude of this crisis,” she said. “I deeply appreciate their advocacy and will continue to work with them to end this scourge on our state and our country.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.