Friday, April 14, 2017

After their child died from a drug overdose, a Kentucky family joined those who are choosing to tell the truth about addiction

By Traci Thomas
Kentucky Health News

The obituary for Katherine Bryant Reynolds, published in the April 5 Lexington Herald-Leader, was engagingly frank: "To honor Katie's life as her forever supportive family, we will strive to reduce the stigma and further the understanding that addiction is not a severe character flaw to be punished and shamed, rather a tragic chronic relapsing brain disease deserving of respect and compassionate treatment."

The Bryants are among many bereaved families across the country choosing to publicly expose addiction as a cause of their loss. Their choice to replace "died suddenly at home" with "died after a long struggle with addiction" challenges the shame often associated with substance abuse.

Katherine Bryant Reynolds
Katie, originally from Richmond, was 37. She lost her battle to drug addiction in her Lexington home on March 28. According to the Fayette County coroner, her death "was a result of poly drug abuse including levels of opiates above the therapeutic range and methamphetamine," her mother, Luanne Bryant, told Kentucky Health News in an email.

"Our being open was right for us. Right for Katie," Bryant said. "If we name something and bring it into the light, we can begin to rob it of its power to destroy. I hope others will, too."

Kentucky is one of five states in the nation with the highest rates of death linked to overdose: 29.9 per 100,000. West Virginia has the highest rate at 41.5 per 100,000, and neighboring Ohio has the same overdose death rate as Kentucky.

State officials have taken several steps to deal with the issue, but Bryant said society is offering no real solutions to the opioid epidemic, "often undermining recovery and endangering those with addiction."

She explained, "Effective and affordable resources have not been made available to our family. From drug court to multiple touches with social services and treatment facilities, to repeated incarceration with abundant access to drugs while incarcerated, the current system is broken and the toll it is taking on individuals and their families and the cost to society is devastating."

Katie Bryant with mother Luanne and sister Kennedy Konshak
Though frustrated by the lack of resources and grappling with the loss of her daughter, Bryant said Katie will be remembered as a young woman full of spirit, spunk, courage and ideas of intellect.

"By sharing Katie’s cause of death, we were refusing to play into stigmatizing opiate addicts by behaving as if this particular disease is shameful and addicts are only statistics," Bryant said. "If the families of the victims of fatal opiate addiction included that in obituaries, maybe people in general would better grasp how opiates are ravaging generations of young people and their families."

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