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  • Writer's pictureEllen Krohne

Getting Worse - Opioid Deaths

The Okawville Book Club reads interesting works, for sure. This month, we read Demon Copperhead. In this work of fiction by Barbara Kingsolver, the story is told by Damon, nicknamed Demon, a young boy who suffers unbelievable loss. His father died in a tragic accident before his birth. His drug addicted mother dies before he is ten and he is placed in a series of horrific foster care homes.

Demon survives this through unbelievable tenacity. But he succumbs before his 16th birthday to a demon he almost didn’t beat – opioids. His rural Kentucky home in the 90’s was a hotspot of illicit drugs, brought to them by the big pharma companies. When Demon is prescribed opioids after a football injury, his next five years are hell. Which he describes in vivid detail.

The details of addition are spelled out in Demon Copperhead. Like, what withdrawal does to your body and mind. And how quickly the need for more comes to the user.

Telling the story of seven families who lost a child to the crisis in Heartbroken– Grief and Hope Inside the Opioid Crisis in 2019 opened my eyes to the opioid epidemic. And the pain of families living with the stigma of their child’s death from drugs. Now, four years later, and the epidemic is only getting worse. A recent article on the ongoing epidemic by Terry Maddox in the Belleville News Democrat revealed alarming statistics:

In the U.S. in 2017 there were 14.9 opioid deaths per 100,000 population – in 2021 that number was 24.7.

In Illinois in 2017 there were 17.2 opioid deaths per 100,000 population – in 2021 that number was 23.7.

And all evidence points to those numbers continuing to rise. Illicit Fentanyl, a man-made opioid that is deadly in high doses, is a large part of the reason for the increase.

You can read the full article on the Belleville News Democrat website:

The hope for stopping these deaths is difficult, but do-able, as my co-authors and I outlined in Heartbroken. There is hope if we take action:

· Grass roots education of our youth in local schools is one aspect. Helping to teach them what the consequences are for the decision to use drugs is an imperative. In our area, the Southern Illinois Substance Abuse Alliance (SISAA) is working diligently to do just that.

· Increased focus on evidence-based treatment programs for substance abuse disorder is another important strategy. The lack of treatment facilities hampers many trying to get well. The recent State of Illinois settlements with opioid manufacturers provide funding at the county level for increased efforts. It is hopeful these dollars will save lives.

· Holding drug dealers accountable for their part in deaths may be another, as the Belleville News Democrat article above outlines.

· Having Naloxone (Narcan), the overdose reversal nasal spray, available where there is any chance of an opioid overdose, is another important way to help stem the tide of deaths.

In the wake of all this are families that are torn apart by those with opioid use disorder. Left to mourn what could have been of their family member’s lives.

Heartlinks Grief Center has a program just for those grieving this type of loss, the Addiction Loss Support Group. If you, or someone you love, is grieving a loss from this epidemic, they can help. Perhaps if Demon Copperhead had access to these types of services and support and education, his life would have been a lot different.

Heartlinks Grief Center provides grief support to all ages, regardless of ability to pay. If you are grieving or know someone who could use assistance on their grief journey, please contact Heartlinks Grief Center at 618-277-1800 or email

Proceeds from the sale of my books are donated to help support Heartlinks Grief Center, a program of Family Hospice of Belleville, IL.

Be blessed,


“We Grow Stronger Together”

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