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Overdose support group helps families cope with losing loved ones in central New York

Ellen Abbott
Quinnika Ayers, support group member, lost her son to a drug oversdose last year

The opioid epidemic claims more victims than those who die of an overdose. Families, friends and loved ones are left living through grief singed with shame and judgment. But there’s now somewhere they can go to get help in central New York.

Quinnika Ayers of Syracuse lost her son Drequan Robinson last year to a lethal cocktail of MDMA, Zanax and fentanyl. He was a student at SUNY Morrisville, and was found unresponsive at a friend’s home after a party. Ayers says Robinson had a troubled youth, but felt he’d turned a corner—or so she thought.

"People look at you differently, and you know, people, they find blame in you. When you are already thinking the things you could have done differently,” Ayers said.

The way her son died created a new dynamic of grief for Ayers.

“Because you have grief plus the shame, the blame and the judgment of others," Ayers said.

But Ayers and others have found solace from their grief in a new support group created by the Onondaga County organization, Hope for Bereaved. After receiving several calls from families of overdose victims, and hearing stories of others who were suffering, the drug overdose group started meeting earlier this year.

"It is a death that is not easily talked about in society. It is a death that brings a lot of judgment, whether we want to admit it or not. It isolates people. And having a child who died or a spouse who died from a drug overdose is not something everyone can understand,” Ayers said.

Facilitator Kim Burmel says more than two dozen people meet every month to let loved ones talk about the things that scare them the most, or the things they don’t want to say out loud.

“You know that after 20 years of fighting this drug overdose, someone may secretly feel a little relieved that now they don’t have to live their life waiting for that phone call to come, because it’s so hard to live that way, and they feel shame for feeling that,” Burmel said.

The idea is that people can ultimately come to terms with this kind of grief, especially after seeing how others have made it through, according to Burmel. She says Hope for Bereaved is the only overdose support group offered in central New York.

In addition to the lack of support groups, Burmel says there also isn’t much literature out there to help family members.

“We’re trying to compile a book to help people with the support group—sort of a game plan for each group. We’re trying to get whatever literature we can get off the Internet and put it into some sort of story. We’re even going to write a few stories ourselves, so we can add to the literature that’s needed,” Burmel said.