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52 Weeks, 52 Faces

The faces above and the stories below are a snapshot of the devastating opioid epidemic sweeping across the United States. Publicly acknowledging that a family member suffered from an addiction to drugs, or died of an overdose, has long been a taboo subject — one best kept secret among family and a few knowing friends. That is changing.

As the death toll from the opioid crisis mounts, families are increasingly weaving desperate warnings into the obituaries of loved ones about the horror that can result when people abuse painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl.

Many words of remembrance have been transformed into pleas for help — directed at lawmakers, families suffering similar experiences, and the general public. Families are using these public notices to push for better and more treatment options while spreading the message that addiction is a disease and not something to be endured in shameful silence.

STAT searched and other sources and selected excerpts from the obituaries of 52 people who died in 2016. In every case, the families of these mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, and even grandmothers decided to make their loved one’s struggle with opioids public in the death notice.

Each person represents the estimated 636 Americans who die on average each week from an opioid-related overdose (based on 2015 data).

Some of the writings are brutally honest. The victims were in and out of jail, often for stealing to support their habit. They could be destructive forces, tearing apart families. There were false hopes produced by periods of sobriety following treatment, only to be followed by relapse.

The victims were found in the woods, in a low-budget hotel, a dorm room, and at home. On the same day in June, two brothers fatally overdosed. In November, a mother lost a third son to an opioid overdose.

Those who succumbed to opioids were also full of hope and promise. They served their country in the armed forces. They were college students, aspiring musicians, athletes, chefs, a race car driver, a high school student, an auto mechanic, a bank employee, and the son of a former US congressman.

They lived in every part of the country, from Arizona to Maine. They are predominantly in their 20s and 30s and white. (The obituaries referencing opioid use are striking for the absence of people of color. That may be in part due to the fact that 8 in 10 people fatally overdosing on opioids are non-Hispanic whites, according to government data.)

Here are their stories:

Chad James Heaven (Jan. 5)

28 years old Army sergeant Palmyra, New York

Kevin Outen (Jan. 10)

24 years old Enjoyed baseball and fishing Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania

Ryan Phelps (Feb. 11)

30 years old Computer science degree Akron, Ohio

Gregory W. Colla (Feb. 12)

22 years old College student South Windsor, Connecticut

Kory Baker (Feb. 21)

33 years old Army medic Rochester, Minnesota

Michael T. Brandon (Feb. 21)

27 years old Fitness buff Norwich, Connecticut

Sean Tyler Stem (March 29)

26 years old Talented skateboarder Burlington, Vermont

Samantha Henehan (April 10)

23 years old Bank employee Scranton, Pennsylvania

Andrew Joseph Lessard (April 10)

24 years old College student Austin, Texas

Zafer Julian Estill (April 14)

19 years old College student Pittsboro, North Carolina

Scott Sousa (April 26)

28 years old Restaurant and construction worker Rochester, New Hampshire

Travis A. Colton (April 27)

29 years old Entrepreneur Russellton, Pennsylvania

Kathryn Virginia Sophia Mason (May 14)

19 years old Equestrian Nashville, Tennessee

Elizabeth D. Blunt (May 25)

22 Years Old Athlete and musician West Chicago, Illinois

James H. Helmer (May 25)

38 years old Race car driver Beaver Dam, Wisconsin

Lisa Marie Andreana (June 1)

22 years old Accomplished pianist Newington, Connecticut

Daniel M. Wheeler (June 2)

34 years old Cook Sylvania Township, Ohio

Jonathan Woodbury (June 11)

33 years old Older brother fatally overdosed on same day Pembroke, Massachusetts

Michael Woodbury (June 11)

37 years old Younger brother fatally overdosed on same day Pembroke, Massachusetts

Jason Philip Rynearson (July 4)

34 Years Old Chef Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Alec Clayton Howe Dougan (July 6)

23 years old Poet/music enthusiast Manchester, Connecticut

Samantha Joanne Grajcar (July 12)​

22 years old Daughter Newington, Connecticut

Tanita Landry (July 14)

31 years old Singer and songwriter Salem, New Hampshire

Johnnie Rae Criss (July 20)

52 years old Grandmother Mansfield, Ohio

Alex Thomas Zimmer (July 23)

27 years old One of nine children Tolland, Connecticut

Jesse Lee Sparks (July 25)

34 years old Son Madison, Wisconsin

Sean Cameron May (July 27)

29 years old Graphic artist Lake Worth, Florida

William Cliffton Carroll Bullock (July 30)

36 years old Avid outdoorsman Raleigh, North Carolina

Justin M. Finnerty (July 30)

26 years old Avid sports fan Towaco, New Jersey

James Thomas Doucette III (Aug. 20)

27 years old Cook Plaistow, New Hampshire

Wayne Curtis Weldon Jr. (Aug. 29)

35 years old Son of former US congressman Boyertown, Pennsylvania

Erik J. Honse (Sept. 2)

44 years old Auto mechanic Ruffsdale, Pennsylvania

Michael Anthony Crocco III (Sept. 2)

21 years old Son Pompano Beach, Florida

Derek Stephen Crowe (Sept. 8)

26 years old Chef Gorham, Maine

William M. Waggaman Jr. (Sept. 12)

26 years old Comic book enthusiast St. Paul, Minnesota

James R. Gimenez (Sept. 16)

32 years old Father of two Cleveland, Ohio

Erin Michelle Carey (Sept. 18)

33 years old Caretaker Battle Creek, Michigan

Sam Miller (Sept. 22)

25 years old College student Columbus, Ohio

Shawn M. Carter (Sept. 26)

32 years old Carpenter Colchester, Vermont

Truly Louise McKirgan (Sept. 29)

26 years old Worked at addiction rehab facilities Scottsdale, Arizona

Daniel Lee Rowe (Sept. 30)

38 years old Baseball fan Marysville, Pennsylvania

Zachary B. Rozelle (Oct. 5)

30 years old Worked in construction Neenah, Wisconsin

Spencer Radel (Oct. 6)

26 years old Carpenter Waunakee, Wisconsin

Dakota Knaub (Oct. 15)

28 years old Hunter and fisherman Mt. Wolf, Pennsylvania

Cory J. Quinn (Oct. 19)

23 years old Son Springfield, Massachusetts

Joseph P. Finn (Oct. 23)

22 years old College student Haverhill, Massachusetts

Andrew Zachary Treiber (Oct. 30)

27 years old Husband Lansing, Michigan

Hayden Scott Graver (Nov. 1)

17 years old High school student Battlefield, Missouri

Jesse M. McCauley (Nov. 6)

24 years old One of three brothers to die of an overdose Rockland, Massachusetts

Cassidy Aspen Cochran (Nov. 11)

24 years old Engaged Homewood, Alabama

Emily Marie Harrison Roznowski (Dec. 3)

22 years old Mother Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

Jason Scott Mise Jr. (Dec. 10)

22 years old Musician Akron, Ohio

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