Childhood Grief and the Opioid Epidemic


BY: Lindsey Neag, MSSA, LSW, LSSW

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

When children and adolescents experience the death of a loved one, it can be difficult for parents and adults to talk about grief with them. Sometimes, we do not know the right words to say or how to answer difficult
questions.These conversations can be especially difficult when the death of their loved one is traumatic or sudden, like death due to a drug overdose. Ohio has the second highest rate of drug overdoses at 46.3
people per 100,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent research. That means children and adolescents in Ohio are more likely than most to lose a loved one to drug overdose.

Like other types of grief, children and adolescents who experience the death of a loved one to drug overdose have a range of mixed feelings from anger, sadness, guilt and regret, to feelings of love and happiness.What makes an overdose death different, however, is that children and teens are more likely to experience higher degrees of stigma, guilt, shame and blame.You may find them asking why this has happened or dwelling on what they could have done to prevent the overdose. Often, they will experience complicated grief and may require extra support from trusted adults on their grief journey.

As one of these trusted adults, here are a few things to consider when talking with your child or teen:

  • Use language that is clear and appropriate to the child’s age and level of understanding.
  • Talk about the deceased in a respectful way. The overdose does not define the person.
  • Emphasize that no one is to blame or is at fault for the death.
  • Guide children in how to talk about their loss to others.
  • Use the seven C’s when working with the child: I didn’t cause it. I couldn’t cure it. I couldn’t control it. I can care for myself by communicating my feelings, making healthy choices and by celebrating myself.
Source: National Association of Children of Alcoholics

While this only briefly touches on how to talk to children and adolescents who have experienced the death of a loved one due to overdose, it provides
a starting point. If you are interested in more information regarding this topic or learning about our school program, please contact Western Reserve Grief Services at anytime.

We Can Help

Speak with the referral team by contacting us seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Any first visit and admission can be made the first day.

Northern Ohio's Hospice of Choice

More than 1,000 Hospice of the Western Reserve employees and 3,000 volunteers live and work side-by-side in the same neighborhoods with our patients and families. We are privileged to have cared for more than 100,000 Northern Ohioans since our inception.