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As Opioid Death Toll Keeps Growing, New Local Group Offers Support for Those Left Behind

The website of the Office of the District Attorney General has a real-time tracker for suspected overdose deaths in Knox County.

“Right now, we are losing 20-30 Knox Countians ... monthly, leaving 20-30 families behind that don’t know where to turn or what to do,” said Katie Allison, who lost her son Henry Granju in 2010.

“A lot of people may not want to talk to someone they know or their clergy,” said Allison. “But people need a safe, private place to talk about their loved ones.”

Allison and her sister, Betsy Tant, will be co-facilitators at the first meeting of the Knoxville chapter of GRASP, or Grief After Substance Passing. It will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 5, at St. James Episcopal Church, 1101 North Broadway. The group will meet on the first Thursday of every month, and all meetings are free and anonymous.

“We could probably run 10 grief groups, and it wouldn’t be enough,” said Allison. “There's obviously a huge need for as much support for the loved ones left behind as possible. “

In the eight years since Henry died, Allison said she struggled to find a group that specifically addresses the topic of losing someone because of substance abuse.

“There are groups for bereaved parents, but there wasn’t a place where I could discuss my son’s inappropriate or even illegal behavior before he died and express my anger,” Allison said. “If a child dies of cancer, no parent can cause cancer, but a lot of people feel that poor parenting leads to drug addiction.”

Allison hopes that the GRASP meetings will be a place for parents who tried their best but still lost their children.

After finding GRASP, Allison realized there was not a local chapter. She and Tant applied to be co-facilitators and, after a series of interviews, were appointed to lead the local chapter.

“If I don’t know how to handle something, I can reach out to the national organization to ask how I should respond,” she said. “To have that backup makes us feel more secure."

The group “is for anybody, not just parents or families,” explained Allison. “It is for anyone who has lost a loved one to substance or overdose. They could be a close friend or a fiancé, anyone who has lost someone to overdose or substance abuse.”

Allison said it was important to stress that the group welcomes those who have lost loved ones not only to overdose deaths, but to substance abuse-related deaths, such as suicide, complications from Hepatitis C or heart issues brought about by long-term substance use.

“We encourage people to bring a picture of their loved one and to tell their story,” she said.

Allison said that as the group grows, the conversations will become more structured, with input from the group.

“With this many people dying every month, we know that even if your family has been lucky enough not to experience this, you probably know someone who can use this group,” said Allison. “We hope they can pass along the information to someone who can use it.”

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