I’ve been invited to talk on several news programs recently about the state’s heroin epidemic. Last year, there were 321 drug-related deaths in the state; 97 were related to heroin. That number will likely rise: According to the New Hampshire Union Leader, in Manchester alone, there have been 65 heroin deaths this year.
Here at Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium, we have been involved in some 50 of those deaths. Some years ago, death by heroin overdose was so infrequent that one would take an exceptional emotional toll on the staff; today, such deaths have become so prevalent that staff takes them as a matter of course: no more –or less – shocking than any other death. And it’s not just heroin; other opioids, such a fentanyl have contributed to shocking overdose numbers.
Many of the people who arrive at the funeral home after overdosing on drugs are indigent, homeless or have no family members to make arrangements. Some funeral homes don’t want to take these cases because there’s no financial gain in them. In fact, while some parts of the arrangements may be covered by social service agencies, many of these people end up being cremated – at a cost to the funeral home.
We will take those people and give them a dignified cremation. Those cremains remain here, at the funeral home, until they are claimed by a family member (if any exist); others remain for a period of time, after which we know they will never be claimed. At that time we include them in a mass scattering of ashes, with the belief that everyone deserves a dignified exit from this world.
In other cases, because of financial circumstances, in addition to their loss, families struggle to pay for their loved one’s funeral or cremation. When that happens, we will help them find assistance, and provide a suitable low-cost option that allows them to make manageable payments, but it’s often still a financial burden.
Heroin doesn’t discriminate. White and black, rich and poor, men and women… there is a human toll, a social toll and a financial toll. Heroin affects everyone.
People need to be made aware of this epidemic and it has to be stopped. We encourage families to use social media to spread awareness and to use obituaries as a way to spotlight the problem. Brave people like Molly Parks father Tom told the Washington Post that the family decided to use Molly’s obituary as a way to raise awareness and help others who may be headed for the same fate as his daughter.
The obituary began: “Molly Alice Parks, age 24, who most currently resided in Manchester, NH, passed away in Manchester on April 16, 2015 as the result of a heroin overdose.”
While the obituary memorialized Molly as a “fearless personality,” with a love of the “Harry Potter” series and “trademark red lipstick,” it also was brutally honest about her struggles with addiction:
“Along Molly’s journey through life, she made a lot of bad decisions including experimenting with drugs. She fought her addiction to heroin for at least five years and had experienced a near fatal overdose before.”
Other families have also used an obituary to help make more people aware of the opioid problem. The parents of Adam Moser, who died of a likely fentanyl overdose, posted a similarly blunt obituary that said: “There was so much more greatness to come from this brilliant young man – he had so much to give. He left us too soon by making a bad decision. Please, please stop before you or a loved one thinks that no drug is too powerful – there is no turning back, no ‘do overs’.”
In the past, many people have not wanted to “air their dirty laundry,” in public. Today, we respond to one or two heroin deaths a week and people’s thinking has changed. Addiction is now viewed as a public health crisis, rather than a moral failing. Writing about it has become much more acceptable and people want to get the word out.
People like Tom Parks, who told the Washington Post, “Even if one person reads that and says, ‘Oh my God, that can be me,’ and stops — if we could save one life — we could be happy,” Tom Parks said. “That would mean that Molly didn’t die in vain.”