Wisconsin Families Are Using Candid Obituaries To Fight Drug Epidemic

By David Konow 08/29/16

Some Wisconsin families are placing explicit details of their loved ones' overdose deaths in their obituaries to educate others about addiction.

Wisconsin Families Are Using Candid Obituaries To Fight Drug Epidemic

Drugs are the most difficult problem that is currently impacting Wisconsin, according to State Attorney General Brad Schimel. Schimel recently told WEAU that every county in Wisconsin has been dealing with crimes related to drug abuse and addiction, and he hopes that raising awareness of the problem and early prevention will be the solution.

Now, a number of families in Wisconsin are putting out a strong warning against drug abuse by making the obituaries of lost loved ones more explicit in how they died. As the Wisconsin State Journal reports, one woman, Sherri Smith, lost her twin sons, Jesse and Tony, to drug overdoses. Jesse’s obituary stated that he passed “after fighting a courageous battle with heroin addiction.”

“This needs to be addressed more than it is. They’re dropping like flies,” said Smith, who is in recovery for drugs and alcohol herself. “People need to be educated about addiction. It’s not a choice. It’s a disease.”

The obituary for Alyssa Hagenbaugh, a 25-year-old resident of Madison who died of an apparent heroin overdose in May, recalled that she was “a kind, sweet and beautiful girl, who had the potential for greatness … Her smile and goofy personality could light up a room, but will no longer because she was taken from us after a long struggle with substance abuse ... Alyssa attempted treatment for her addictions, but in the end she could not overcome them.”

“It’s part of my nature, to educate. If it sparks a family conversation about drugs at an early age, that is our goal,” said Alyssa Hagenbaugh's mother, Amy Campbell-Andrew. Another Wisconsin mother, Patty O’Rourke, has also been open about her son’s death of a heroin overdose in early August. “We need to talk about it,” she told the Chicago Tribune

In a 10-year period, drug deaths in Wisconsin have more than doubled from 2004 to 2014. Earlier this year, Attorney General Schimel called the state's problem with drug abuse a “public health crisis.” As Lt. Kevin Kinnard, the head of the Brown County Drug Task Force, said at the time, “About two years ago we saw a huge increase in the amount of heroin, and that was probably because of the clamping down on prescription opioids and the ability to get them.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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