Obituaries traditionally have been very close-mouthed when talking about the cause of death, especially a sudden death for someone who is relatively young. The obit may say "died at home" or "died after a short illness," or "died unexpectedly." These euphemisms cover a multitude of types of deaths, but some are used to keep a death due to a heroin or opioid addiction a secret from the wider world.
This is changing. Families are now asking newspapers and funeral homes to list the cause of death as heroin overdose or death due to other addiction with frankness and candor. In some cases, these honest and heart-wrenching obituaries have gained traction and gone viral on social media.
Their openness is another sign of how widespread addiction has become in the United States. It is also a sign that society's opinion on addictions is turning from one where drug abuse is seen as a crime and a moral failing to one where it is being treated as a public health crisis that demands creating more avenues for addicts to get treatment.
In many instances, these honest obituaries are being written by grieving family members and loved ones of the deceased. Reading them can be heart-rending. The obituary at a funeral home's site for Daniel Joseph Wolanski reads: "They used to say it takes a community to raise a child. Today, we need to say that it takes a community to battle addiction. Someone you know is battling addiction; if your "gut instinct" says something is wrong, it most likely is. Get involved. Do everything within your power to provide help. Don't believe the logical sounding reasons of where their money is going or why they act so different. Don't believe them when they say they're clean."
Heroin is cheap almost everywhere in the United States right now. It is now being used by young and old, male and female, rich and poor, with many users from demographics that had not been involved in heroin abuse in the past, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2002 and 2013, heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled, to more than 8,300 in 2013.