More Obituaries Refer to Addiction as Heroin Overdoses Increase

Memorial 7-14-15

A growing number of obituaries of people who have died of heroin overdoses refer to their addiction, The New York Times reports. In the past, these obituaries tended to say a person died “unexpectedly” or “at home.”

More families are writing candidly about their loved ones’ struggle with heroin addiction in newspapers, on Facebook and on obituary websites like and

“This is part of a trend toward a greater degree of acceptance and destigmatization about issues pertaining to mental illness, including addiction,” said Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, Chairman of Psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

He added, “If a family chooses to do this, they can have a cathartic experience that facilitates the grieving process. When the person was alive, they may have been enabling, and they couldn’t acknowledge it. But this allows them to begin that process of coming to terms with the fallibility of the family member and their own limitations in not having been able to deal with it while the person was alive.”

When Wade B. Pickett Sr., 34, died of a heroin overdose, his wife, Tiffany, wrote in his obituary in the The Express-Times in Easton, Pennsylvania, “I am sorry if this obituary offends, hurts or shames some people. I hope that it might help save some people from the incredible heartache we are experiencing.”

The family of Daniel Joseph Wolanski, 24, of Avon Lake, Ohio, wrote in his obituary, “Someone you know is battling addiction; if your ‘gut instinct’ says something is wrong, it most likely is.”

Increasingly, drug abuse is considered a disease and a public health crisis, instead of a crime and moral failing, the article notes. While addiction obituaries do not seem to be the result of an organized effort, they are part of a movement that calls for better treatment options and changes in the criminal justice system.

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    August 8, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    As a mom who has lost a child to substance use disorder I know there are many places to tell our story, that are appropriate and have impact either by writing or speaking out. The obituary is not one of them. An obituary is an attempt to give honor to the life lived. It is the last opportunity we have to publicly tell the community that our child was more than an “addict”. They already knew that. My son’s obituary was long and celebrated all of the wonderful things he did in his life. Anything other than that, in my opinion, is just misplaced anger that once printed can never be taken back.

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