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Ten years after losing her son, Vancouver mother fights to end stigma around overdoses

In Oregon, the number of overdose deaths have tripled over the past few years, with about 800 deaths last year according to the CDC.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Over the past two decades, drug overdoses have increased across the country, reaching more than 100,000 deaths just last year. In Oregon, the number of overdose deaths have tripled over the past few years, with about 800 deaths last year.

Vancouver resident Lyn Anderson is left with memories of her 18-year-old son Ryan, who died from a heroin overdose about ten years ago. 

"There’s always that hole within your family," she said while holding a picture of Ryan that she said brings her back to better days.

Ryan's "laughter and his heart" are what she misses the most. 

"He was a very kind, very kind boy, young man, but just his presence he could change the room," she said.

RELATED: Fentanyl-driven overdoses jump, officials urge naloxone

Anderson said she believes Ryan's addiction started when he was just a boy. He was in the eighth grade when he broke his leg, and doctors prescribed him Oxycontin.

"That started his drug and alcohol use, from marijuana and alcohol and then pills, and it led to heroin," she said.

Ryan went through various treatment programs over the years, and at one point he was clean for seven months. But eventually he started using again.

"He didn't communicate with us that he had found his way back to heroin, and we got a text message August 19th, 2012 from someone who was concerned about him, and shortly after the deputies showed up at our door," Anderson said. 

RELATED: ‘It could happen to anybody’s kid': Mother of Portland teenager killed by fentanyl warns of deadly epidemic

She now works in the recovery field, supporting other grieving families and fighting to change the stereotype around overdoses.

"There’s a lot of stigma and shame associated with people who use drug and alcohol, or misuse, and that needs to stop," she said.

"There’s a lack of empathy," added Jeremiah Lindemann, who lost his younger brother to heroin more than twelve years ago. 

Lindemann later created an online map called Celebrating Lost Loved Ones where families can post photos and a description of who they've lost.

RELATED: CDC releases 'truly staggering' overdose death toll for 2021

"It’s a great vehicle to help families that have lost people to get over our fear that they feel their loved one’s memories will just go away and will be forgotten," he said.

The map keeps their stories alive, he said, even though it’s a map no family wants to be on.

"We continue hoping to break that stigma, tear down that shame and get those resources out there," Anderson said.

Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. Clark College will host a public training for administering naloxone, the generic name for several brands of emergency medication that can reverse opioid overdoses.

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