By Tami Scott

Submitted by HOPE for Bereaved

Chris Black had a heart as big as the outdoors.

“He would give [the] shirt off his back to someone else who needed it,” said his mother, Darlene Black, of Marcellus.

And his passion for the outdoors was just as big. “He loved anything to do with [it]. He was a huge fly fisherman, he snowmobiled and dirtbiked and hunted.

“He had a great sense of humor. He was such a good kid,” said Black about her first-born child.

Chris was 22 years old when he died from a drug overdose 10 years ago on Feb. 9. He had mixed heroin with Ativan (a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety), fell asleep and never woke up.

“I’d trade my life in a minute if I knew he would come back straight,” Black said.

More and more families are experiencing parallel tragedies as drug abuse and addiction become increasingly prevalent. According to, preliminary statistics for Onondaga County in 2015 reflect a significant increase in opioid- and heroin-related deaths over the past five years. According to the Onondaga County Medical Examiner’s Office, 57 Onondaga County residents died from opioid-related overdoses in 2015, up from 24 in 2010. There were 34 heroin-related overdose deaths, up from 26 in 2014 and one in 2010.

“[Heroin] is so dangerous because it’s so powerfully addicting. It doesn’t take much to have people really addicted to it physiologically,” said Dr. Terry O’Brien, who currently teaches at SUNY Oswego. His clinical experience includes more than 35 years of private practice counseling, with expertise in substance abuse. “It can affect anybody.”

O’Brien will speak at an upcoming presentation, hosted by Syracuse-based HOPE for Bereaved, called “Coping with the Aftermath of a Death by Overdose.” There he will focus on addiction as a biological/psychological/social disease and discuss ways for people to cope with the death of their loved one.  He also emphasized his desire to lessen some of the blame that parents or loved ones feel.

“Oftentimes, it’s not the fault of the parent, the loved one — it has to do with the power of addiction,” O’Brien said. “Oftentimes, people are left with a terrible legacy of shame, blame [and] guilt, and I want to go after those pretty strong.”

HOPE staff member Kim Bermel, will be co-facilitating the Feb. 23 presentation with Darlene Black.

“It’s a shell shock,” said Bermel. “Could I have done this? Should I have done this? Most have done possibly everything they could do to stop it.”

Bermel said the not-for profit has recently experienced an increase in calls related to deaths by overdose. Consequently, HOPE for Bereaved has begun holding a monthly grief support group on the first Tuesday evening from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at its Center.

“They’re not alone in their grief,” Black said. “There’s people there to help them. HOPE is an amazing place.”

Tami Scott is a freelance writer and former HOPE Board Member.

What: “Coping with the Aftermath of a Death by Overdose”

When: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Where: HOPE for Bereaved, 4500 Onondaga Blvd., Syracuse

Contact: (315) 475-9675 or

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