My Sister-in-Law Died of an Overdose, and My Family Is Refusing To Keep Quiet About It

A family loses 19-year-old daughter to heroin overdose

A family loses 19-year-old daughter to heroin overdose“Don’t keep a secret because secrets will kill you.” 

That’s one of the messages my husband’s parents are trying to spread after my 19-year-old sister-in-law’s death in March from a heroin overdose.

Hannah was a smart, funny, and loving young woman—a woman with her whole life ahead of her, a world of possibilities at her fingertips. 

Except that, unbeknownst to my in-laws until years later, Hannah was robbed of her joy and innocence when she was sexually abused for four years beginning at age 7.

The abuse left her with debilitating emotional pain and a constant barrage of terrible thoughts spinning through her brain. When she discovered opiates, she discovered a way of numbing that pain and quieting those thoughts, but then the addiction took over her entire life.

After 5-6 years of struggling with addiction—which included 20 different rehabs and addiction treatment programs all over the country—she died of a heroin overdose in her bedroom at my in-law’s house.

Some of you may remember bits of this story from the poem I wrote for Hannah back in May. Earlier this week, the story of Hannah’s struggle and my family’s subsequent grief was featured on the local news, and the video has taken off.

My family is speaking so openly about what happened because they know that to do the opposite—to keep quiet about the darkest, deepest struggles in life—is exactly the problem. There’s some downright ugly stuff in this world, a lot of which my poor sister-in-law experienced firsthand, and to deal with it you’ve got to talk about it.

The story is touching the lives of so many people: people struggling with addiction, people whose loved ones are struggling with addiction, parents whose hearts feel the weight of losing a child, and parents who want to learn more about how to protect their children from the evils of abuse and addiction. If the story touches you in some way, I encourage you to share it in the hopes of saving lives. What Hannah wanted more than anything else was to help others experiencing the kind of pain she felt. Her story is doing just that. [hr]

How has addiction touched your life?


36 responses to “My Sister-in-Law Died of an Overdose, and My Family Is Refusing To Keep Quiet About It”

  1. This is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry for what your family has been through. What a positive way to come out of a tragedy. We need to talk, not only about addiction, but about keeping children safe from sexual abuse. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Astonishing how common this is. My aunt, a young vibrant woman, also OD-ed on heroin last year after being in and out of treatment for prescription pills and alcohol abuse. It was horrible to watch her personality morph over the years, as well as see her physical deterioration.

    My family had a lot of anger towards her for putting my uncle and her three children through so much, but I always felt like there had to be some delineation between the person and the addiction. Yes, she was an adult who made her own choices, but she was also under the influence of something very powerful.

    I’m happy to hear your family is so open about it, and actively looks for ways to support others going through similar struggles.

    • Thank you for your words, Jessica. I completely agree that there’s an important distinction between the person and the addiction; when the addiction takes over, the person does things that are so out of character, so against what they would do if they were truly in control. I’m so sorry to hear about your aunt. Thoughts and prayers for your family as you continue to grieve.

  3. I re-posted this to my facebook Katie… I want more people to know the story and learn from it. My brother is addicted to Heroin and was arrested last week. I sent him the link too…. The more people that hear her story the better. I am praying for your family and anything I can do to spread the word in NY… please do not hesitate to let me know. God Bless.

  4. We’ve seen a bit of all of this in our family. It reminds me of what I stress to our daughter and used to stress in my classroom…

    We know not what is going on behind another person’s skin. (I call it the “skin test.”) As a result, treating each person we encounter with love (appropriate to the relationship) and compassion is essential.

    I know elements of your sister-in-law’s story first hand. I know when people don’t see the underlying causes and the impact it can have.

    I also know that there’s potential in each moment to make a difference, and clearly, you and your family are choosing to do so.

  5. Wow. There is so much I want to say about this post and that video, Katie. I’ve worked in the addiction field for about 8 years now, and Hannah’s story is all too familiar. The sexual abuse, trying to numb the pain with alcohol and drugs, treatment and relapse. Maine has had a huge opiate problem. Since they’ve cracked down on oxycontin and other pills, heroin has now made a resurgence. The stuff on the street can be lethal. It just breaks my heart to hear about another beautiful woman taken from us by addiction. I’m so glad you shared this and your in-laws are talking so openly about addiction. There’s so much shame with it. But it’s a disease like any other. My condolences, again, to your family. Stay strong and keep the conversation going! I will be sharing this on my client’s FB page.

    • Thank you so much, Jennifer. The resurgence of heroin has already claimed so many lives, it’s just devastating. I’m sure you see it all too often.

  6. Sorry for your loss. It’s so unfair that, as a child, she didn’t get the help she needed. Your family is doing the right thing by spreading awareness with her story. Bless you for that.

  7. I watched the video when you posted on Facebook, but I just didn’t know what to say. I am in awe of your in-laws; to speak of their loss and use it to educate others takes such strength. I’m so sorry for your loss, Katie. Hannah was less than four years older than my own daughter, and I can’t even imagine. But we have to imagine, and we have to educate. Thank you for refusing to keep quiet.

  8. I’m so sorry again, Katie. You guys are doing a wonderful job sharing her story and helping other families going through the same thing. Or to even be more cognizant of both sexual abuse and addiction. It pains me that your sister-in-law was abused at seven years old. Seven years old! Thank you for sharing her story.

    • It is truly devastating! If I recall, you wrote a wonderful post about preventing childhood sexual abuse, so thank you for the work you’re doing to help parents and children.

  9. People who have problems (i.e. ALL OF US) have no less right to be treated with respect and dignity than others, who have much more socially acceptable problems. Peace and prayers to you and your family, Katie!

  10. Katie, I’m so glad your family is sharing this. I pray that it helps others who are suffering from addiction. My brother has battled addiction for many years, and we are still trying to get through to him. Like your sister-in-law, he has been many programs. Definitely sharing this and continuing to fight.

  11. Thank you for sharing so openly about this tragic event in your life. I am so sorry and heart broken for your family. I have seen first hand from close friends how addiction can take over and take control of your life and all those around you. It knows no mercy. I pray for your in-laws’ peace in their hearts. Such a sad story.

  12. I read the title and thought, “why is Katie against them speaking out?”- but it seems you are not, and I think this is both heartbreaking and agonizing to think such a precious life is lost to drugs. And I am not surprised it was the trauma behind it all…

    I am praying for your family, Katie. And praying that many lives are saved to bring some redeeming hope back into those who will miss her for the rest of their lives.

    • Yes, Chris, I am definitely FOR speaking out! The more people are talking, the better, because when we’re open and honest that paves the way for more people to get help.

  13. Katie, you and your family are so brave for sharing this. I truly hope it helps someone. My oldest daughter is 12 and just today I was talking with a friend who has a family member struggling with addiction, so this hits a little too close to home. So sorry for your loss.

  14. I’m so sorry for you loss. Thank you for sharing. My parents lived in Bel – Air and my brother was a heroin addict. He too kept it a secret (we thought he was a pill user only) until he almost died from a heart infection due to drug use. Afterwards he went to rehab and lived in a halfway home. I am getting ready to head back home to celebrate his one year of sobriety. I can’t help read these types of stories and think of my brother. I know his fight isn’t over. He knows it’s not over. Everyday for the rest of his life he has to choose to stay clean. He is in a good place now. He is surrounded by family and friends who support him in his fight. He has a baby girl now that he is staying clean for. Sometimes I do struggle with sharing his story. Is it something to tell or keep to myself? He is pretty open about it, which makes me proud. I hope that when I have an opportunity to share, that I will be brave enough to.

  15. I was an addict for many years not even knowing it putting my children through hell yes there was pain to cover up my self centeredness was at the core after finally finding help with recovery program Narcotics Anonymous I did not have to die my children got there mother back I even became a grandmother I now have many years of not using drugs or alcohol I have dealt with my pain another
    Way may you find your way to recovery JP86

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