Locals write book on region’s battle with opioids

As the opioid crisis continues to explode, three local authors are shedding light on the devastating realities the epidemic is having on regular households throughout the St. Louis metropolitan region in a new book titled, “Heartbroken – Grief and Hope Inside the Opioid Crisis.”

 The book features the personal stories of seven local parents as they navigate their diverse – and in each case totally unexpected – journeys through the opioid crisis and their traumatic grief of losing children to drug addiction. It also provides details on the history of opioid addiction in the U.S., explains why use of the drug has skyrocketed in recent years and offers solutions to help prevent drug abuse, as well as strategies to provide healing and hope to families who have lost loved ones to drug addiction. A key goal of the book is to help reduce the stigma of both addiction and addiction loss.

The stories are written by author Ellen Krohne of Okawville, who enlisted as co-authors Matthew Ellis, MPE, of St. Louis, Mo.; and Diana Cuddeback, LCSW, of Caseyville,  tapping into their respective areas of expertise in opioid addiction and grief counseling.

Readers will hear the story of Ryan, whose tragic journey into addiction began at age 15 with pain medication prescribed following wisdom teeth surgery and ended with a fentanyl overdose at 26. Their hearts will ache as they follow the story of Elaine’s daughter, who over eight years went from being a loving granddaughter and working as a caring Certified Nurse Assistant at a local nursing home to an addict who overdosed twice at home before losing her battle at 27.  And they will really wonder if it could happen to their family, as Lenny tells how his smart, athletic, educated and handsome son, who worked alongside him in the family business, died from a fentanyl overdose after what appeared to be a one-time use of the powerful drug.  The other four stories are equally heartbreaking.

The book – already available on Amazon.com – will officially be launched during a book signing event on Thursday, Aug. 29 – in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day, which falls later that week. The event is being held from 4 to 8 p.m. at Main Street Brewing Co. Banquet and Events Center, located at 6435 W. Main St. in Belleville. All three authors will be on hand to answer questions and sign copies of the book, which will also be available for purchase.

The event is being held in honor of those lost to addiction and in support of the loved ones they left behind. All profits from the sale of the book will benefit Heartlinks Grief Center.

Author Krohne was inspired to write the book after attending a program on the opioid crisis, put on by the Washington County, Ill., Health Department in early 2018. While there, she learned that the county had experienced a dramatic increase in deaths from opioid addiction over the last few years and expected the problem to continue to grow. And, the issue wasn’t limited to Washington County. In fact, abuse of opioids in the St. Louis region has risen dramatically in the last decade, with a 400 percent increase in opioid-related deaths. In 2017, 760 people died from opioids – mainly heroin and fentanyl.

“I was shocked how much opioid addiction was impacting our area, so I did some research and learned how prevalent the epidemic is – not just in the St. Louis region or in Southern Illinois, but everywhere in the U.S.,” Krohne said.

Krohne volunteers at the Heartlinks Grief Center in Belleville, a program of the Family Hospice of Belleville that provides grief counseling and support to individuals and families in Southwestern Illinois. In speaking with Cuddeback, director of the center, she learned that many families struggle with the stigma associated with an addiction loss. The idea was then born to put a face to the crisis and write a book about families who had lost children to opioid addiction.  The stories featured in “Heartbroken” give a voice to opioid addiction and loss, but the book morphed as it was written to also become a “handbook” for parents, including an appendix full of resources.

Krohne teamed up with Cuddeback and Ellis – an expert on opioid addiction – to write the book. Ellis, an epidemiologist at Washington University School of Medicine, has worked on the opioid epidemic for more than a decade. Cuddeback has worked in hospice, counseling and grief therapy for nearly 30 years.

“Matthew and Diana provide key insights on the realities of opioid addiction in the U.S. and the stigmas surrounding addiction loss and grief,” said Krohne. “We are humbled to tell the families’ stories and hope that in doing so, we’ve honored each life that was lost, as well as the families who are left to live with the pain. It is our hope that this book will encourage everyone to take action and help stop the stigma associated with addiction and help change the tide of the crisis.”

Heartbroken  – Grief and Hope Inside the Opioid Crisis is available for purchase through Amazon.com and on the Family Hospice  of Belleville website (https://familyhospice.org/product-category/books/) and at Annette’s Flowers and Gifts in Okawville.  Profits from the book sales are being donated to the Heartlinks Grief Center.

For more information about the book or to reach author Ellen Krohne, visit www.ellenkrohne.com.  To schedule a presentation on this important topic, please contact Heartlinks Grief Center at 618-277-1800.

About the Authors

Ellen Krohne holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in organizational management and completed a certification in The Opioid Crisis in America, a course of study offered by Harvard University. In 2017, she authored her first book, “We Lost Her,” a story of her and her six young siblings’ emotional and spiritual real-life grief journey after their mother’s tragic death. She feels honored to have been able to tell the families’ stories for Heartbroken: Grief and Hope Inside the Opioid Crisis and is looking forward to continuing her writing career. Krohne worked for Illinois Power Company for 27 years – from front-line customer service to VP of Customer Service – and as an international business consultant for a decade. She most recently served as the Executive Director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois until her retirement in 2106.

Matthew Ellis holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Rockhurst University, a Masters of Psychiatric Epidemiology from Washington University in St. Louis and is currently a doctoral candidate of Behavior Science in the College of Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University. Based in St. Louis, at the Washington University School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry, Ellis is an epidemiologist who has worked on the opioid epidemic for over a decade. His focus is on transitions to heroin, the impact of abuse-deterrent opioids and understanding the demand side of opioid abuse by linking quantitative and qualitative data. Ellis has published a number of opioid-related research articles and reviews in the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA Psychiatry, and Drug and Alcohol Dependence, among others. He has also been featured in VICE and Forbes.

Diana Cuddeback, LCSW, is the founding firector of Heartlinks Grief Center in Belleville, Ill. Trained as a family therapist, she holds a master’s degree in social work from the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. Cuddeback has worked in hospice, counseling and grief therapy since 1991.  She started Heartlinks, a program of Family Hospice, in 1997 and, along with the Heartlinks team, has provided innovative programs both within and outside of Heartlinks Grief Center for diverse populations. Cuddeback has extensive trauma-related grief experience and guides the Addiction Loss Support Group at Heartlinks Grief Center. Her mission is to create a meaningful community of support for grieving people, filled with learning, activity, fun and connection.

1 Comment

  1. Angela on August 23, 2019 at 1:29 pm

    Also as heartbreaking are the ignored suicides by patients with severely painful diseases who are no longer able get their pain medicines thanks to the so-called opioid epidemic.

    Yes, we have a problem with addiction but until we decide to be truthful about the facts of the problem in that it is illicit drugs causing the overdose deaths we will never solve the addiction problem and people will continue to die. I recommend ASCH for factual information & statistics regarding opioids.

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