Langley resident Heather Mullan holds a photo of her daughter Amelia, who died of a drug overdose. Mullan has launched a new support group for parents of overdose victims. Dan Ferguson Langley Times

Langley mom launches support group for parents of overdose victims

There is a lack of long-term resources for grieving parents

It was 10 months before Langley resident Heather Mullan could bring herself to put up a picture of her daughter Amelia.

When she did, the photo she chose was a happy one of Amelia, who died from a drug overdose at 35.

It shows a contented-looking woman posing in front of 20 Mile Creek near Hedley.

At the time, Amelia was in a positive relationship and working hard to stay clean after years of addiction.

The photo was taken about two years ago.

Just over a year later, in March 2017, Amelia had a slip, took some heroin laced with fentanyl, and died.

She was one of more than 1,400 people who died from an illicit drug overdose in B.C. last year.

READ MORE: More than 1,400 people in B.C. died of drug overdoses in 2017

About 81 per cent of the deaths were the result of combining drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine with fentanyl, a painkiller that is 100 times more toxic than morphine and can be fatal in even small amounts.

The public health crisis has meant an increasing number of parents, like Mullan, are left to mourn their children.

“It’s horrendous and lonely,” Mullan said.

And it can be especially hard when someone is lost to drugs.

“A loss through substance abuse has a real stigma to it,” Mullan said.

She held her hands out as if to hold someone close.

“When you care for them (an addict) you hold them here,” she said.

Then she opened her arms wide.

“When they pass, “here” is empty.

Mullan paused a second to collect herself.

“I said I wasn’t going to cry,” she said, then reached for a tissue.

There was short-term assistance available for grieving parents of overdose victims, including a six-week program offered by a local funeral home, but there was nothing ongoing for parents struggling with the unimaginable, Mullan discovered.

“There was no support,” Mullan said.

So she started looking for something long-term.

Her search led her to GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing), a support group for parents and loved ones who have had family members and friends who have died as a result of drug misuse, overdose or addiction.

The group was started in the U.S. by a couple whose 20-year-old daughter died from a drug overdose in 1994.

They launched an awareness program that evolved into a peer-to-peer support network with more than 100 chapters in the U.S. and Canada.

There are GRASP chapters in B.C., in Victoria and Kelowna.

To become a qualified peer leader of a GRASP group, like Mullan, it has to have been a year since the loved one has passed away.

The first local GRASP meeting organized by Mullan will be held on Thursday, March 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in room 206 of the Cloverdale Recreation Centre at 6188 176 St., which has donated space.

For more information, email or phone 604-616-4800.

READ MORE: Drug overdoses almost a daily occurrence in Langley City

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