The opioid epidemic in America today is no secret to anyone, especially not the journalists who report about the crisis and the massive number of people who die from an opioid overdose each year. But for one reporter, Angela Kennecke of KELO in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the opioid crisis hit painfully close to home. Last May, Kennecke lost her 21-year-old daughter, Emily, to an opioid overdose. The official cause of death was fentanyl poisoning.
After taking some time to grieve her loss, Kennecke decided she had to tell her daughter’s story, like she’s asked so many other parents to do as a reporter. If she can keep just one parent from suffering through the loss of their own child because she spoke up, she says, it will be worth it. In both video and writing on her TV station and their website, Kennecke has told of Emily’s life and death, and advocated to lessen the stigma around opioid addiction. In an essay on KELO’s website, Kennecke talks about having such a public loss:
“Perhaps it’s no surprise since her birth was such a public thing because I’m in the public eye that her death is now such a public thing too. I have to embrace that. I really can’t hide from that. So, I think it’s best if I just tell my story and let everyone out there know what happened to my daughter. Because I really believe it could happen to anyone’s daughter. It can happen in anyone’s family. And it starts with addiction.”
Kennecke states that she knew something was off with her daughter, who at age 21 no longer lived with the family. Eventually, Kennecke figured out that her daughter was using drugs, but didn’t know what kind. She and her family hired an interventionist to stage and intervention to get her into treatment. Kennecke tells what happened next in her essay:
“We met on a Saturday and the intervention was planned for the following Saturday, and my daughter died on a Wednesday. We didn’t get that chance. We didn’t get that chance to get her into real treatment, to get her real help. And then when I found out what she’d been doing–the cause–it was unbelievable to me. The fact that my daughter would be using heroin and needles—my beautiful daughter who was very privileged; had every opportunity in life to have a great life–had gone down this road. It was shocking to me.”
Emily died of an opioid overdose four days before her family’s planned intervention.
Kennecke says that although she communicates for a living and considers herself a “wordsmith,” she cannot find words to adequately describe the loss her family has suffered.
“There is nothing that can even come close to describe the grief and the sorrow, the pain. And all of the loss–what she could have been–what if?”
You can feel her grief as she shares her story on video for her news station:
“This could happen to anybody,” she says. And I believe she’s right. Part of Kennecke’s mission is to let parents know that addiction does not discriminate. The most intelligent, academically gifted, athletically gifted person can fall victim to this disease, especially with drugs like heroin that become addictive so quickly.
Kennecke elaborates more in this second video about Emily’s life and death:
To help others, Kennecke has now started a foundation called “Emily’s Hope,” a fund set up through the Avera McKennan Foundation to help offset the cost of addiction treatment when the local new treatment center opens next fall.
She also is crusading to end the stigma and make treatment more accessible to those who so desperately need it. The reality is over 70,000 people died of opioid overdose in 201, but little assistance is provided to help people afford life-saving treatment. “If something else like Ebola, was killing 72,000 people a year,” she said in an NBC News interview, “what would this country be doing?”
I know that drug addiction has a stigma because so many people judge addicts for “choosing” to do drugs. The truth is that some do choose it. Others get started on perfectly legal prescription painkilers and then find that by the time their pain better, they are addicted to the drugs. To me, it doesn’t matter how someone gets started. We ALL make mistakes. Some have bigger consequences than others, but God forbid I make a mistake that could be fatal and someone decides my life is not worth saving.
Friends, pray for those in the throes of addiction. Pray that their loved ones will get to them in time, as Kennecke was unable to do with Emily. PRAY, and act. Advocate for recovery in your community. Show those struggling with addiction that you value their lives. Reach out, end the stigma, and make a difference, as Kennecke is doing in Emily’s memory.