By Leah Williams
A new book looks to shine light on a topic of the overdose tragedy that is not often discussed.
Ellen Krohne of Okawville co-wrote “Heartbroken: Grief And Hope Inside the Opioid Crisis,” which was released last week. The book looks to lift the stigma on those who can be impacted by the more somber notes of the public health epidemic.
Profits from the book will also be donated to Heartlinks Grief Center, which assists through individual and family counseling, peer support groups and other supportive community programs regardless of a person’s ability to pay.
Krohne said she was not seeking out a followup project after she finished her first book “We Lost Her,” which detailed her and her siblings’ grief process following the death of their mother. But she was open to penning a second book if the right topic would come along.
“I didn’t have plans to write another book but thought that if another one came to me then I would write it,” Krohne said.
Krohne attended the Washington County Health Department’s Ladies Night Out event, where presenters discussed how drugs have impacted the local community.
“I thought we didn’t have an opioid crisis here in Washington County,” she said. “They made it really clear that we did. I was really shocked. I didn’t think it was possible here in this little county.”
Krohne said she researched the topic further and discussed it with Diana Cuddeback at Heartlinks. Heartlinks has an Addiction Loss Support group that helps parents who have lost their children to drug overdoses. Cuddeback told her that the group serves an important need. A When Krohne asked what resources were available for those in the Addiction Loss Support group, she found that was limited amount to help those who have lost someone they love to overdose.
“There is a lot of books that talk about why we are in this crisis, and who is to blame,” she said. “There are some that talk about a child’s recovery… But there isn’t a lot that talks about when that isn’t the outcome. It was in that moment when we knew we had to write it.”
Krohne and Cuddeback partnered with Washington University doctoral student Matthew Ellis, who has been studying the opioid crisis for nearly 10 years.
“He writes how do we get there, I write the seven families stories behind every story and Diana writes how do we help these families grieve,” Krohne said.
The book details the journeys of six families who dealt with loss, and six of those chronicled were from the Addiction Loss Support group. Krohne said she struggled at first with figuring out she wanted to tell their stories.
“I didn’t know how I was going to write it,” she said. “I felt like I was enough of an expert to write about the opioid crisis. I could research but you really got to have someone who has that perspective.”
With the stigma surrounding drugs and how addicts are formed, Krohne said she hopes the book will change the public perspective.
“We are all kind of naive to think that it is those families over there,” she said. All seven of these families could have been any person’s family.”
It can be especially hard when in dealing with grief and stress over what could have been done to prevent the tragedy, other people’s opinions come into play.
“There were terrible things that were said to these families,” Krohne said. “And we just have to stop that. If we think that it’s somebody else and it’s their fault, then we are not going to invest in the treatments that are out there to help them. Some of them did the tough love. Some of them did whatever they could to keep their kids alive, things they never imagined they would do, like [for example] take them to their dealer because their kids were so deep in withdrawal they couldn’t take it anymore. I hope that the book changes the view of who was addicted to drugs.”
Each story is truly heartbreaking. One person was a soldier who decided to enlist after Sept. 11, 2001. He died of a heroin overdose after developing PTSD and becoming addicted to painkillers.
One teen had his wisdom teeth pulled and was prescribed Oxycontin, not knowing that he had a predisposition for addiction. A couple of short years later he was addicted to heroin and died of an overdose. His mom wishes she could go back and give him Tylenol for the pain.
Another died after taking fentanyl for the first time. His organs and tissues were later donated to help save 35 lives.
Krohne said “Heartbroken” also dedicates a portion of its pages to prevention and figuring how best to keep young people from trying and becoming addicted to drugs. She said local coalitions like the Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance are able to use state, federal and local dollars to help local causes. The SISAA brings good evidence-based programs into local schools in hopes of starting an important dialogue about prevention.
Krohne said she enjoyed the writing process and the opportunity to tell these stories.
“Because every addict is somebody’s child,” she said. “I feel so honored to have gotten to tell their stories. They are part of my heart now.”
“Heartbroken: Grief And Hope Inside The Opioid Crisis” is now available on Amazon and at Flowers and Gifts in Okawville.
Anyone who is struggling with the loss of a loved one can attend a Heartlinks support group set up to help local families. The Washington County Grief Support Group meets on the third Monday of each month at Washington County Hospital from 6:30 to 8 p.m.