Opioid addiction crisis traces the brutal openness in obituaries

Andrew Oswald kept a secret.

Friends and neighbors in his hometown of Hamilton, N. J., knew Oswald as a gifted writer, a music-buff, and the kind of guy parents wanted their children to hang around and their daughters to date.

On Jan. 27, Andrew died at the age of 23 years. His parents unsparingly shared his secret in his in memoriam.

“Our beautiful son, Andrew, died of a heroin overdose,” read the first sentence.

It is a sad trend that follows the explosion of the number of deaths in the whole country as a result of opioid addiction. Once a forum for sweet memories and flowery language, the obituaries for the victims of opioids are becoming more and more a platform for frank cautionary tales.

“We want to be a part of his story in the hope that life may be saved, and his death will not be in vain,” Oswald the parents explained further down in the obituary. “Addiction is a mental illness. No one is going to be an addict.”

As baring and the shame behind the failed struggle of a lost soul is shocking to other friends and family, that’s just the point. Now, there is even a Twitter account that posts links to the obituaries of people who died of a heroin overdose or tainted opioids.

“None of his friends knew that he used drugs, until he went to rehab,” said Andrew’s mother, Stephanie, her only child. “It is the dirty little secret.”

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Andrew Oswald

Health experts compare the opioid epidemic, which from the beginning of the spread of HIV in the 1980s. It defies the boundaries, sowing death and misery in the cities, suburbs and rural areas alike, and the claim of the victims from the ranks of the homeless and the ultra-successful.

The roots of this addiction, it is usually a pain-inducing injury and a well-designed treatment that festers long after serving its purpose, explain its egalitarian reach.

Although recognized medically as a disease, addiction carries a stigma. And when the dependence on prescription drugs asks the victim to turn to their illicit cousins, such as heroin, the stigma looms even larger. People can have a dark, judgmental gaze on them and their families.

The Oswalds knew that they sacrifice their son cleaned up legacy, but believe they did so for a higher purpose.

“I was worried,” Stephanie Oswald said of the writing of a frank in memoriam. “I felt like I would break, my son,” said the mother about her child, the axis of which she wears in a locket on a chain around her neck. “My husband said,” We put it in there. Tell them, tell them that they are playing Russian Roulette if they opioids or heroin.”

It didn’t take long for the family to see what the effect is of the painful decision.

Hundreds showed up to Andrew’s funeral; many were family members of people that had to do with an addiction, or who had died from an overdose. They told Andrew’s parents, they had found comfort in the obituary’s message about how the addiction was not a failure or weakness, but a disease.

In Connecticut, a corporate executive, Amy and Andreana hid her daughter Lisa’s battle with opioid addiction from colleagues and bosses. Lisa had become dependent on opioids first, and then heroin. They fought through numerous detox programs as they clung to her dream of Harvard. During her windows of austerity, they want to go to schools with her mother to talk about opioids and addiction.

“You live with this burden of secrecy,” Andreana said. “I kept it private. I work at a high level job in the insurance. I didn’t want to bring it to work with me. I compartmentalized.”

Last June, Lisa died at the age of 22. Her mother said that Lisa apparently thought that she was consuming heroin, but it was fentanyl, a synthetic painkiller similar to heroin, but is 50 times stronger and 100 times more potent than morphine.

“When she died, I immediately thought,” I’m not going to hide,'” Andreana said. “I called my boss and told him. The support I got was overwhelming.”

As the Oswalds, she decided to the addiction in Lisa’s obituary. It was with dismay by a number of family members.

“They said, ‘Can you soften?'” she remembered. “I said: ‘How can you soften?’ She said, ” Do you need to say this in the open now?” I said, ” Yes, we do.'”

In February of 2016, Keith Kinsman, owner of a company, walked out of his Towanda, Pa., at home one morning and found his son Ben, 28, lie dead in the snow in the front yard. Kinsman had spent the night jester about the whereabouts of Ben, who developed that there is an addiction, after obtaining a recipe for a collapsed lung. He had been drug free for a number of months, but took a lethal dose of heroin.

Looser, the eulogy combination of his son, a lot of endearing qualities with a warning to the community, not to turn a blind eye to the killer in the city.

“I told the truth in Ben’s funeral,” Looser said. “I knew that he would have wanted.”

He wanted people to stop seeing addicts as losers.

A recording of the eulogy was thousands of times downloaded, and reached countless strangers far and wide. A wake for Ben and addiction awareness drew hundreds of people. Neighbors, friends and strangers searched for the elder Kinsman in confidence to take on their own opioid addiction, or that of their child or spouse.

“Young people came to me and said,” Keith, you need to tell them, I’m sick of seeing my friends get addicted, and die.””

In 2014, when such candor in obituaries and eulogies was rare, New York father Brian Hunt wrote an open letter to the community. It appeared in a full page in the Staten Island Advance newspaper after his son Adam died of acute heroin intoxication following months of stay clean.

“My 23-year-old son Adam died on 2 March as a result of this terrible drug epidemic that has a grip on Staten Island,” the letter began. “My son was a good, loving young man and he had everything to live for… I want my son’s life and the struggles that he had to stay clean mean something.”

As with other parents, Hunt made the painful decision to commemorate a loved one with a brutal honesty that he could only hope that would be an extra parent to his fear.

“I want other parents to know, you can’t say: ‘not my child,'” said Hunt, who recently addressed a meeting of parents of addict children in a Staten Island school.

“You are blessed,” Hunt said. “Even though you have a child with an addiction, you know what you have that I don’t? You have hope, you have a whole world of tomorrow.”

Elizabeth Llorente is a Senior Reporter for and can be reached at Follow her on


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