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New approaches are needed to control addiction and overdose deaths in West Virginia and especially in Huntington.

A modest shrine for those who have overdosed could be set up in an old house. Each family could have a small space to memorialize their lost relative or friend. Their efforts would be entirely voluntary and largely untrammeled. Any kind of emotional expression would be considered acceptable: sorrow, anger, confusion, guilt … whatever family or friends of the departed wished. Of course ambiguous and contradictory expressions would be expected. Space would be provided only to those who evidently had a connection to an actual overdose or suicide death.

No geographic limits would be set, although since the problem is substantial here in West Virginia, it would be expected that local memorials would predominate. Nor would there be much regulation of modes of expression: photos and poetry, flowers and art, recordings and sculpture. In a few cases displays that virtually all considered offensive might have to be censored or forbidden, but every effort would be made to accept sincere efforts at memorialization.

As soon as there were enough physical displays, the shrine could be virtually presented. A virtual-reality walk-through could bring the shrine experience to any interested parties wherever they resided. Donations would be acceptable and perhaps even tastefully solicited, but there would be no fee for visiting this shrine. An exception to this rule could be made if visits were sponsored by organizations getting funds for overdose or suicide abatement.

While family and friends of the departed would be the main source of support for the shrine, another interested group might be recovering addicts (i.e. people who almost overdosed). In any case shrine upkeep would, ideally, be provided voluntarily.

Here are some possible benefits:

  • If, as expected, the chief emotion expressed was sorrow, some overdoses or suicides might be avoided by those who feel unloved but who, nonetheless, are not entirely so.
  • While privacy would be a chief concern, some consolation could be had for bereaved folks who might be conditionally agreeable to revealing their identities.
  • Upkeep of the facility could — for some — provide a lifeline. Cleaning, landscaping, curating and providing docent service could give a sense of purpose not otherwise available.
  • Software is now available to change facial photo images to reflect what the person would look like after a given number of years of aging. Without losing the integrity of such semi-imagined images, a bit of tweaking could ensure that the image produced was as positive as reasonably possible. Having an image of what the deceased would have looked like now (years later) might give visitors a new take on what had been lost.

It might be objected that the shrine could ironically encourage depressed folks to overdose. Or, alternatively, those drawn to what some might see as macabre might do themselves and their family little good if they were to immerse themselves in the displays. A counter-argument to this would be that the cat is, so to speak, already out of the bag. One example is the Goth subculture.

If our usual current reaction to families suffering from a member who has passed as described above is embarrassed silence, then surely what is suggested here might constitute some improvement.

John Palmer is a Huntington resident.

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