From the Heart: Family Members Speak Out About Ending the Opioid Crisis | Opioids | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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From the Heart: Family Members Speak Out About Ending the Opioid Crisis


Published December 11, 2019 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated December 13, 2019 at 11:49 a.m.

The reception - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • The reception

Kate O'Neill's yearlong Hooked series was one of two opioid-related initiatives Seven Days created this year. The other is All Our Hearts, a memorial project that helps families honor loved ones who died, like Kate's sister Maddie, of causes related to opioid-use disorder.

Since it launched in September, has published 41 stories submitted by individuals all across the country. More than 23,000 people have visited the site, which has logged more than 120,000 page views. It's been featured in articles in BuzzFeed and, as well as on CNN's "On the Story With Lynn Smith."

In November, Seven Days brought together some of the Vermont participants to craft clay hearts honoring their loved ones. On Sunday, December 8, we held a reception at Generator in Burlington to distribute the hearts and hear from their creators.

Numerous city and state officials attended, along with treatment professionals and supportive citizens curious about the project. They took home clay hearts, which are imprinted with the project's web address.

They also took with them the testimony of families devastated by this disease, who are speaking out to help those who are still struggling. Read on for excerpts from their remarks.

Find more stories, or submit one of your own, at

Vanessa Price-Dater - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Vanessa Price-Dater

"Nobody chooses opioid-use disorder. They really don't. They face a hard enough path ahead with recovery without having to climb over this mountain of stigma and shame before they can even get to the starting point.

I very much hope that we can continue the good work and get to a point where memorials like my sister's can be replaced with more actual success stories."

— Vanessa Price-Dater, sister of Brooke Elizabeth Price (1978‑2010)

Margery Keasler - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Margery Keasler

"I feel that this project is smashing stigma and furthering change in a really, really damaged system. This project is documenting a plague, you know? It's a historical event. And it's wiping out our youth and our children.

When we came to make these hearts, we came together as a community. You could feel the collective grief. It was palpable.

Family members who have had mind-bending losses sat together and worked clay with our fingers into hearts. We were able to concretize our loss in the forms of our clay hearts. We would write their names in the clay and remember these remarkable people who have died. The experience was poignant, and I was so very happy to be part of it."

— Margery Keasler, mother of Brennan Joseph DeKeersgieter (1986‑2013)

Dawn and Greg Tatro - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Dawn and Greg Tatro

"Addiction is a disease. It has nothing to do with failure, with sin, with weakness or with being less than a whole person."

— Dawn Tatro, mother of Jenna Rae Tatro (1992‑2019)

"Substance-use disorder comes in many forms. And the suffering that accompanies addiction affects the whole family. It echoes throughout our communities. Imagine a future where we have succeeded in breaking down the stigmas, where all of us as a community no longer whisper about dependence, but we can bring the crisis of addiction out into the open without embarrassment.

Dawn and I refuse to be ashamed of our situation and our loss. We'll always speak loudly about Jenna and our story."

— Greg Tatro, father of Jenna Rae Tatro

Thank You to:

Lena Camilletti, for organizing this event as part of her graduate degree in social journalism; Generator, for donating the space; John Cohn and Diane Mariano, who helped with the heart-making process; Pike Porter, who made the website stamps; art therapist Emily Piccirillo, for guiding participants in crafting the hearts; Chris Vaughn and Burlington City Arts, for firing them; Frank Cioffi, the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation and GW Tatro Construction, for providing startup support for All Our Hearts; everyone who shared their stories; and Kate O'Neill and her family for inspiring this project.

Need Help?

If you or someone you love are suffering from opioid use disorder and need treatment and support resources, here's how to get connected:

Hooked logo

"Hooked: Stories and Solutions From Vermont's Opioid Epidemic" is made possible in part by funding from the Vermont Community Foundation, the University of Vermont Health Network and Pomerleau Real Estate. The series is reported and edited by Seven Days news staff; underwriters have no influence on the content.

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