A Mother’s Day Dream, After Losing My Daughter to Fentanyl Overdose

    Ordinarily, my wish for Mother’s Day would be to spend a bit of time with my children. Not a lot to ask. And I will get to see my son, but I will not get to see my daughter. Not on Mother’s Day, nor on any other day, ever again. Because she died in September, at the tender age of 21, from fentanyl toxicity.

    Let me tell you a little bit about my exceptionally special daughter, Addison. She was physically beautiful, but much more importantly, she was beautiful on the inside. She was born with a remarkable gift of empathy for people in every walk of life. She won the Frederick Douglass award for social justice at the age of 13. She was brilliant and funny and interesting. She skipped a grade at school and attended a renowned university. She left after two years, because she was too anxious to get out into the world and do—as she recognized the vast pain of life for so many people around her.

    Addison found employment at an agency that assisted people struggling with addiction, homelessness and mental illness, and proceeded to work on the streets of New York City every day, as a harm reduction specialist. 

    She had people die in her arms. She also saved many livesboth directly, with Narcan, and indirectly, with her spectacular gift of genuine concern for each innately special human she encountered. She had a way of seeing people’s hearts, regardless of the dressing that society gave them. And so she was adored and respected.



    And now I, and the many who cherish her, will never have another moment with her. Forever.

    So I am forced to alter my wish for Mother’s Day. This Mother’s Day, I wish instead for people who use drugs to be seen as they truly are: not as “flawed” characters, not as weak or shameful, but simply as human. 

    The costs of stigma and punishment are far, far greater than the cost of building an infrastructure of care.

    Many people who use drugs are trying to find the tools to address their profound pain. People who need our help, and our love. People who need a system, accessible to all in need, to assist with the sadness and despair that any of us may experience from time to time. A community of care, not blame. A society that leads with care, and extends that care to everyone, including when we struggle or make mistakes. It doesn’t condemn substance use, but does recognize when it’s a means to navigate pain for someone who may not have other options. A society willing to take each suffering human by the hand, and guide them to peace—whether that’s through harm reduction, counseling, recovery or other non-carceral resources. 

    Today, people in this position are routinely punished, labeled as criminals, ignored and deemed to be of lesser value. Imagine if we instead cherished their sensitivity, their humanity, and opened doors to them sharing their unique qualities with the world.

    If we don’t change, we will continue to lose many more of our loved ones, including our children. The grief already permeating so many families amid this overdose crisis will continue to escalate, with ripple effects on surrounding communities. This collective grief damages our society, and affects us all.

    The costsboth human and financialof stigma and punishment are far, far greater than the cost of building an infrastructure of care that would prevent the loss of so many amazing youth like my daughter. 

    This Mother’s Day, I wish that all parents be provided with the opportunity and resources to help their children through the journey of life, including the drugs that are part of many people’s lives, with knowledge and compassion. That we set aside judgment and shame, and embrace and act upon our love for all our children. 

    More than ever before, this situation demands that we turn our focus toward harm reduction, to save the lives of a terrifyingly high number of people at risk.

    Many of us may have used drugs ourselves when we were younger. Many of us may no longer do so, but we must know that with the right support, stable and happy lives are possible. 

    Policies have led the unregulated drug supply to become more and more dangerous in recent years, with fentanyl and other highly potent substances far more prevalent. 

    For more people than ever before, their chance to navigate life, to grow into their best selves, is abruptly ended. They simply die. And it appears that too many of us, and our government, are simply resigned to this fact.  

    More than ever before, this situation demands that we turn our focus toward harm reduction—immediately, and with passion—to save the lives of a terrifyingly high number of people at risk. 

    This was my daughter’s mission, and her lasting legacy. It should be shouted from the rooftops.

    We need profound change, and we are running out of time.



    Top photograph via Pxhere/Public Domain. Inset photograph courtesy of Kara Harmon.

    • Kara is an attorney and a representative of the national Moms United to End the War on Drugs campaign. #momsunited www.momsunited.net. She lives in Upstate New York.

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