IRETA’s Dr. Holly Hagle opens up about how an overdose touched her life and discusses its impact on others

Dr. Holly Hagle, ATTC-SBIRT Director

Dr. Holly Hagle

My last blog entry was about trauma, a depressing subject, so I vowed my next post would be more cheerful and optimistic. This blog is about prescription drug overdose and how it affected my family.  Not exactly cheerful and optimistic. In fact, a horrible experience for the family left behind. 

I hope my story brings about greater awareness of and early intervention for prescription drug abuse.

Let me tell you my story. People in my family talk about it behind our backs. Now that my father has passed away, maybe people will talk about it with me. Maybe I feel like I can talk about it since my Dad recently passed (not of a drug overdose; he was addicted to tobacco…that’s another blog.) Now I can let my secret out.

My mother died 10 years ago from an accidental drug overdose. At least that is what it says on her death certificate.  I have never spoken of this despite my position within the addictions education field. I have never talked about how it affected my life. I have struggled with keeping it a secret. I am revealing the truth hoping something good will come from it, that maybe others will tell their stories, too. 

mom and dad

The author and her parents

My mom was a great, fantastic, super person. She was a loving wife, mother and daughter; her love was true and unconditional. There was something special about her and my dad.  They adopted three children all outside of their race (in 1971 before Angelina and Brad made it cool). I felt honest, unconditional love from both my parents. 

But Mom also suffered from chronic debilitating depression her entire life. She also suffered from chronic migraines and a degenerative disc disorder that were treated with prescription medication and eventually led to a fatal addiction.  

Other families: What’s left after a loved one dies of a drug overdose?

I was curious about other families in the wake of overdose deaths: how do they go on? The tragedy of the situation, of losing someone you love to an overdose, leaves a gaping hole in your heart that can never be filled. It really is horrific.

About a Boy Named Henry Louis Granju, told by Henry’s mother, is the story of how the drug overdose of her 18 year old son has affected her family. His mother wrote about their experiences in a blog and a local news station did a short documentary about their lives. She wrote about how he was much more than his disease of addiction.

Stubborn hope–and beautiful music


The Lumineers in 2013 – Credit: David Lee

I can’t carry a tune or play a note, but I turn, as many of us do, to music to help heal my pain and sorrow…or to cheer me up. That’s why I was touched by the story of how The Lumineers came together.

The two founding members of the band began making music together after Josh Fraites, brother of Jeremiah Fraites and best friend of Wesley Schultz, died of a drug overdose. Out of their grief came musical collaboration.

In a 2012 interview with USA Today, they said that the overdose “influences what we talk and write about. There’s a certain level of growing up overnight that happens. As a band, it adds something that’s very elusive — it’s hopefulness, but there’s also some sorrow behind it, and there’s some depth that defines who you are.”

Best illustrated by their single Don’t Wanna Go, the Lumineers convey the conflict of pain and sorrow and fear that overdose encompasses.

Prominent people are affected by this, too

Recently, President Clinton requested that CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta do a story about America’s number one accidental killer, prescription drug overdose.  A close friend of the former president’s lost his son, who died after mixing a prescription pain reliever with alcohol.

Renowned addiction researcher and former deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy A. Thomas McLellan reveals his personal and professional perspective on overdose in this interview with the New York Times where he discusses his son’s overdose death from anti-anxiety medication and alcohol.  He characterizes the problem of addiction as the country’s “most entrenched problem.”


The really sad thing is that overdose can be prevented! What if my dad had a Narcan kit at the house? Or what if we had gone to seek help at a place like The Bridge to Hope, an organization for families who need support in addressing substance abuse and addiction?

Understanding the Issue

Here are some links to information about some of the issues surrounding overdose, its rise, and prevalence:

This article by the Washington Post captures the troubling history of OxyContin and its perceived “minimal risk of addiction:” Rising painkiller addiction shows damage from drugmakers’ role in shaping medical opinion

This article in Join Together highlights the FDA’s upcoming decision to right a wrong: FDA to Consider Tighter Regulations for Hydrocodone

This article by the CDC highlights the commonalities between a 53-year-old mother, her 35-year-old son, and seven others who all died of prescription drug overdoses in a nine month period: Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses

What do we all have in common? We are all a stone’s throw away from this affecting us: Painkiller Overdose Death Rate Triples In Ten Years, USA

source: CDC's Vital Signs

Drug overdose death rates by state per 100,000 people (2008)
source: CDC Vital Signs

Sharing Stories

If you want to share your story in hope of de-stigmatizing addiction, here are some interesting sites to check out: and Experience Project: I lost someone to overdose stories

I would like to think that maybe she felt in the end…that she didn’t wanna go. So I am left with this: maybe if I tell this story, others will tell theirs, too.