In 2014, there were 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers.
The same year, there were 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin.
From 2000 to 2013, the rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled.
There is no denying that America is in the midst of an opioid and heroin epidemic, and funeral directors see firsthand the aftermath of these overdoses. Keith Walker, president of Walker Funeral Homes & Crematory in Toledo, Ohio, says he has seen at least three overdose victims in his funeral home each month for the last few years, and the number seems to be increasing.
“It is always tragic,” Walker said. “These are usually young people in their 20s and 30s. Their families have usually been trying very hard to help them get off of heroin.”
In Ohio, the home of Walker Funeral Homes, the epidemic is particularly gruesome. A segment of CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired April 24, 2016, said that each week the heroin epidemic kills at least 23 Ohioans.
That’s why Walker decided to do something about it. Earlier this year, he partnered with mental health and government agencies, local support groups, the media, and local businesses for a campaign called “Heroin Steals the Future – There is Help.”
Help with Heroin
The most recent part of the campaign is the launch of a comprehensive website called Help with Heroin, which serves the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan areas. When you visit the site, you are greeted with three options: “I Want to Help Myself,” “I Want to Help Others,” and “I Want to Help Employees.”
Clicking on the option most relevant to you opens up a page full of hotlines, local resources, online resources, and other information to help get past an addiction or help a loved one or employee who is addicted.
The rest of the site features educational resources, locations of help centers and healthcare facilities, news about opioids, and much more.
Since the launch of the campaign, Walker has gotten a lot of positive feedback from the community. Some of his connections in the community have even begun to offer their help in determining what resources are still lacking and how they can remedy those shortfalls together.
“I think what really helped in the publicity of this is that we are a funeral home,” Walker said. “People do not expect funeral homes to do things that help prevent deaths.”
He believes that other funeral homes should consider getting involved in their communities in ways that make a meaningful difference. Perhaps other funeral homes in the Midwest should consider following his lead — according to U.S. News & World Report, heroin abuse has increased most drastically in the Midwest, with the Northeast trailing closely behind.
And to those out there who are struggling with a heroin or other opioid addiction, Walker’s biggest piece of advice is to not relapse once you’ve been clean for a while. He says that is the leading cause of death he sees at Walker Funeral Homes.
“Often times it is someone who did get off it for weeks or months who shot up again, used the same dose they were used to when they were addicted, and they die instantly,” he said.
In addition to Walker Funeral Homes, other members of the Toledo community have been involved in making this initiative a possibility, including The Zepf Center, Lucas County Sheriff‘s Office D.A.R.T., A Renewed Mind, Arrowhead Behavioral, The Team Recovery, Good Grief of Northwest Ohio, Toledo Lucas County Health Department, Sylvania Community Action Team, The Chamber Partnership, iHEARTMedia Toledo, 13 ABC, Lamar Outdoor Advertising, Thrive Marketing, Adams Street Publishing, Welch Publishing Co., Sylvania Advantage, and Mirror Newspapers.