In Silence No More.
"It Could Be Anyone" focuses on Cortland, New York and its neighboring communities.
Overdose deaths continue to be on the rise across the country. Many communities do not have the appropriate resources to help people who struggle with addiction and substance use. Some communities are trying desperately to help, others are staying silent—hoping that these issues just go away.
This chapter tells the stories of eleven families who have lost their loved ones to overdose.
They speak of their loss in hopes to end the stigma that surrounds substance use and overdose. They also extend their hands to reach out to other families and individuals that may be suffering in silence as well as community members and leaders who are afraid—afraid of losing someone they love to overdose.
Like most things in life, this is an ongoing story.
“I want my message to show that I’m fighting stigma. I realized right off the bat that what I learned in high school related to drug use doesn’t apply today. When I found out my son was doing drugs, I learned the importance of Narcan and saving a life. I learned that it can affect your family even when you think it wont. My message that I'd like everybody to walk away with is to not think that it can't touch your family, educate yourself, and stop the stigma and learn compassion for every human.
I didn’t understand any of this until I lost my son, Spencer. Now I am an advocate."
“In this photo you see two parents who lost their child to overdose, but what we see is a family strong in faith, who have hope, who loved their child. She was such a bright light in the world, there was a strong person behind the addiction.
Our communities could join together and have one common voice, but instead what we hear are whispers because no one wants to talk about how addiction and overdose affects everyone equally, rich or poor, it has no discrimination. We see the anger that people have towards those who struggle with addiction, but do you know what that anger really is? It’s fear…Fear that someone they love might be struggling in silence and be the next one to die.
Anyone that struggles with an addiction needs to be humanized. People who are addicted are struggling with a disease, society judges them for having made a bad decision and views them as a failure, but the one constant is that they’re human beings in need of love and support, they all have a story.
If Erin’s story could save one person or family the heartache of losing someone they love from overdose, then we need to tell our story.”
-Kelhi & Rod
“No one wants to think it can happen to their family, but it can. Erica struggled for eight years with substance use.
Our message as a family would be that life goes on. There is also more than one picture of what a family is, what it looks like, it has changed for us.
We keep Erica’s memory alive by being honest about what happened, particularly to her daughter, Ella. But more than trying to educate the public about what happened, we’re trying to educate our community health and mental health organizations, making a difference there is an important part of our story."
"I want to try to be a voice for people who have struggled with what I struggle with.
Many people I know have watched somebody else go through addiction but they haven't been through it themselves. I have been on both sides of it, I've been on the addict side and I've been on the sober side and I’ve lost someone I love, so I have a feeling for what it is on both ends.
I hear people commenting negatively on overdoses here in Cortland and it breaks my heart, we're still human beings I'm still a mother, I'm still a daughter and a sister, I'm still human. It's hard for the people that haven’t experienced this or lived through it to understand what we really go through.
People feel like this is a choice, like we chose this. I did not choose to go down this road and destroy my life, I did not choose to leave my children. It was a process. People are very uneducated about addiction, and a lot of people don't want to know, I think maybe they're afraid.
We need more education about how people become addicted. We need to get to the root of why people like the feeling, why it helps cover the pain that people suffer from, and we don't have a lot of treatment options. We have no detox and we have no rehab, a lot of people have to pay out-of-pocket just for the medication’s. Let's face it, it's a lot cheaper to be an addict then to get help."
“The most important thing is that we have to take a stand together. There needs to be laws that hold drug dealers accountable and help to notify the community when there are dangerous drugs going through the area.
Why was there no notification about the deadly drugs in our community? Chace was the third death in eleven days, he was 24 years old,
The drug dealer that did this to Chace is still walking the streets. When somebody is given a drug and it takes their lives right now there is nothing lawfully that can be done about it. That’s why I’m also advocating for Laree’s Law to be brought back through the New York State Assembly. If someone sells drugs that end up killing people, this law would give law enforcement the tools to put those people behind bars, right now police don’t have the ability to do that easily.
Kids need to realize that drugs have changed, you don’t know what you’re getting anymore. Dealers are adding a lot of stuff to drugs now. Chace wasn’t an addict, he took a Xanax that had fentanyl in it. Unfortunately these drugs are not only taking their lives, but they are taking from their families, their parents, their loved ones. I wish kids were more careful and that our government was more open to keeping the community aware of what is going on, it could save a life.”
"I wish people who are thinking about using could feel the pain we do. It's the only way that they're going to understand it. Kids who are using; look at your parents, look at the people around you who love you, please just ask yourself why you're doing this. I just want everybody to know the pain that this causes.
When we found out that Paul was using I said to myself ‘he's going to be dead, he's gonna die I just don't know when’. I felt so helpless.
This can be prevented, all these people are dead for something that could be stopped. I feel like so many of these deaths could be prevented. The pain is too much for anybody to bear so why continue to do this? Why chance it? Are you playing Russian roulette?
We see lists of people that died from Covid, let's put next to it people that have died from overdoses. How many people in our communities do you think we're losing? How many people are dying from this disaster here? Let's look at that too. We’re losing people daily."
"My brother was a good guy. He would take the shirt off his back for anybody, everybody loved him. He just went down the wrong path. He was only 29 years old. Nobody knew that he was doing drugs. I want everybody to know that he had a loving family that even six years after he died are still grieving for him. Addiction doesn't just affect the addict, it affects the family it affects friends.
There's a hole in my heart because of his loss, and no matter what I do I can't fill it back up. He was my best friend."
"I don't want other families to feel like we do, or experience what we had to go through. I would want them to be able to come to me and talk to me about this and open up and not be ashamed of it.
I don't think there's enough conversation within our community at all. There's a lot of stigma, they don't want to admit that there is a problem here. I think that with drug addiction and with mental health there's a stigma, people don't want to say that they have an issue or someone in their family does, they want to keep it to themselves. There's not enough support out there saying that it's okay to talk about it, let's have a conversation. People are afraid to talk about it.
I think a lot of people believe that with drug addiction it's something that you can help yourself, they don't realize it's not. Joshua always said to me “I didn't wake up and want to be like this”, and he's absolutely right. He didn't wake up one day and decide he wanted to be a drug addict. It took a lot for him to tell us and come to us and say “I need help”.
There's a lot of fear in our community about this.The fear is not knowing who is affected by this or what we can do. People watch movies and read articles about what addicts do and I think that's what they're afraid of. They don't see the good in them. Joshua had the biggest heart of any person that I know, he would give you his last dime, people don't see addicts like this.
We need to educate doctors and patients, everything that was in Josh's system was prescribed to him at rehab, but it was more than the recommended dosage. The combination and the amounts that were in his system were just too much.
We helped Josh a lot, but I also feel like the system failed him because there's just not enough help out there. Our country needs more facilities and more systems and more places for people."
"I would like people to understand that if they know someone has a substance use problem, get help. If they know that their loved ones are at risk of overdose, get Narcan trained. It’s not that there wasn’t support for my daughter, it’s that I didn’t know how bad it was, I let my guard down. Never let your guard down.
Overdose awareness is important in our community. To have parents and loved ones speak out and realize that this happens more frequently will help to reduce the stigma around substance use. There is not enough education in our community. People think that this is only happening to a few, when in reality it is happening to so many more.
If we could provide more education to the public we can start having more conversations about how we can help. I was very uneducated before this because I didn’t have to be educated, I didn’t think it would happen to us. I was under the impression that it should be easy to quit heroine. I didn’t know.
People don’t want to admit that it could happen to their friends or families or that it’s happening in their town. If it happens to the people that can sweep it under the rug then they will and the stereotype that this only happens to ‘low-income’ and ‘dysfunctional families’ will continue, but it can touch anyone.
The day after my daughter died I decided that if there is anything I can do to help someone, save one person, that I will do whatever I can to save someone the heartache that I have experienced. We have to keep moving forward with this message. Maybe we can get the attention of our elected officials to try something and understand that the people that have overdosed or are taking drugs now, they are people. We have to remember that they are people."
- Karleen Shafer
"My main focus is that I want people to feel free to reach out. There are people and organizations that are here to help them in recovery. I also want people to realize that drug abuse can happen to anybody in any family at any time regardless of their financial status or where they stand in the community. This is the stigma: that most drug addicts are poor or homeless. I am also adamant that addiction is a disease, I know that many people would disagree, because they think that a user can just quit, but an addict can’t just quit.
I regret that I didn’t help my daughter get into treatment a second time. I wish that I had supported her more—I know she would say that I supported her a lot—but in her case if I had only been able to get her to get into treatment or a group living atmosphere, she may still be here today.
I want to encourage people—if they’re going to use drugs—that they should never use alone. If a user is going to use, they’re going to use, but please don’t use alone. Erin was left alone after she went into respiratory distress. Ultimately this is what took my daughters life.
I would encourage other people who have lost loved ones to talk about their story, keep their memory alive, honor them by telling their story. They aren’t here to save a life, but you are. I want to save a life, I wouldn’t have told my daughters story because it felt so deep, I couldn’t process what happened and why it happened until I told her story…it answered my own questions and took away the shame. Tell their story, save a life."