Seven Iowa men are featured on a national map that has become a living memorial to the thousands of Americans lost to opioids.
The Iowa list of victims is noticeably incomplete. From 2002 to 2014, as many as 1,239 people died from a prescription opioid overdose in Iowa, according to the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center. And, in each year since, the state has witnessed an increase in the number of people lost in opioid-related incidents.
In 2016 — the year the seven men featured on the map died — there were 180 opioid-related deaths across the state. The Iowa Department of Public Health has projected 201 such deaths for 2017.
The online map, developed in 2016 by ESRI engineer Jeremiah Lindemann, relies on users to add images and information about those who have died. To date, about 1,300 lost loved ones have been listed.
Those memorialized include brothers Terry and Zach McPoland of Dubuque, who died within hours of one another on April 9, 2016. They were 27 and 31 years old.
Also on the map is David William Lepsch, a Dubuque 28-year-old who died three days after the brothers. Adam Goerdt, a husband and father, was lost later that month. He was 36.
Two more from Dubuque — Marty Krambeer, 53, and 20-year-old Hunter Frommelt — make the city the most heavily populated on the map. All of those from Dubuque, by the way, are believed to have died either from heroin laced with fentanyl or purely the latter.
Frankie Farao-Dudley, age 20, was from Des Moines and died in October 2016.
The National Safety Council recently announced it will use the map to help raise awareness about the opioid epidemic. Organizers hope the map, with its photographs and messages, can help reduce the stigma surrounding these types of deaths, and place human faces alongside statistics.
A survey conducted last year by the NSC found one out of every four Americans personally knows someone who has overdosed or died from an opioid overdose, knows someone who has become addicted to opioids or has become addicted themselves. The findings prompted the group to launch a national public education campaign, which began with “Prescribed to Death,” a memorial wall made of pills carved with faces to represent 22,000 of those lost.
“We are losing far too many loved ones to the opioid epidemic,” reads the map’s home page. “In 2016, we lost over 37,814 people; people we love and care about. While we cannot bring them back, we can honor them and continue to educate the public on the dangers of opioids.”
It’s difficult to imagine someone we love becoming a heroin addict. There’s a misconception that it can’t or won’t happen to “good” or “hardworking” people. Yet, four out of every five heroin users in the U.S. started by misusing prescription painkillers — pills they obtained legally, most often to ease post-surgical pain or discomfort from an injury.
The danger is easier to see while looking into the eyes of an Iowan whose death was unnecessary and preventable. Visit losttoopioids.nsc.org to view the map.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Feb. 7, 2018.