A reporter from South Dakota who reported frequently on opioid addiction had to tell the most painful of stories—the death of her own daughter.
Angela Kennecke was an investigative reporter for KELO in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She has spent years telling people about America’s growing opioid crisis, an epidemic which claimed some 72,000 lives in 2017.
While all stories of lives lost to drug overdoses are painful to tell, by far the most painful report Kennecke ever had to file was about the death of her 21-year-old daughter, Emily Groth, who died of an overdose on May 16.
Kennecke said she was slow to realize that her daughter was using hard drugs—she knew Groth was experimenting with marijuana, but never imagined that her daughter, with a comfortable middle-class, Midwest lifestyle, would be injecting drugs.
When she did realize what was happening, Kennecke scheduled a professional intervention in an effort to save her daughter’s life.
Groth died from an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin three days before the intervention.
By sharing the story of my daughter's loss I hope to help end the stigma surrouding addiction and the suffering of so many.
Posted by KELO Angela Kennecke on Wednesday, September 5, 2018
‘It could happen to your child’
Faced with the pain of losing her daughter, and knowing how many other mothers have had to face that pain, Kennecke decided that she needed to spread the word as widely as possible. Kennecke decided to use Emily’s death to, hopefully, save other lives.
After taking a leave of absence to deal with her loss, Angela Kennecke appeared in a special KELO segment on KELO on Sept. 5, to talk about her pain.
“By telling Emily’s story and my story of loss and pain and suffering. I’m opening myself up. I’m being vulnerable to our audience in a way I’ve never been before,” she said.
“But I do feel it’s super important I do that. Because if just one person hears me. If just one person does one thing to save a life, then I don’t care about a million naysayer’s or people who don’t understand. I just care about that one mother that I can stop from experiencing the pain that I have.”
Then, on Sept. 7, Kennecke flew to New York City to appear on CBS This Morning. She shared her story on national TV with a grim but poignant message: “I just feel so compelled to let everybody know what happened to my daughter can happen to you. It could happen to your child,” she said.
I wanted to share the interview I did with NBC News while in NYC:https://www.nbcnews.com/nightly-news/video/tv-anchor-shares-story-of-loss-to-fight-stigma-of-addiction-1315460163542
What Is a Typical Addict?
CBS This Morning host Gayle King tried to understand how Kennecke could not know that her own daughter was an addict.
“You had no idea she was using heroin?” King asked Kennecke.
“This was what I marvel at because you said you all were close. You knew she had had some drug issues, you said with marijuana. But you, an investigative reporter, had no idea that she was using heroin?”
“It was the most shocking thing to me,” Kennecke replied. “Needles? Middle-class kid, privileged, all these opportunities and things like that. It’s hard to explain addiction. It’s hard to understand.
“My child ran out of the doctor’s office once when she was going to get a shot.”
CBS News has posted the full story from this morning on its website. The huge response to me sharing my family’s tragic…
Emily Groth was not some disaffected teen from a broken home, with no hope and no reason not to escape into drugs. Instead, she was a very intelligent and creative young lady, who studied music and art in high school. She played the Cello and French horn, and sold her clothing designs online.
Groth also excelled in sports, winning events in gymnastics and track. She ran several miles at a time a few times a week.
She loved the outdoors, hiking, camping, and snowboarding, according to her obituary.
In other words, Emily Groth was the last person one would expect to end up in a body bag with heroin in her veins.
Yet, she had been struggling with addiction for more than a year before she took her final, lethal dose.
Kennecke said she realized that her daughter had a serious problem in the last week of her life.
“Everything in my instincts told me something is seriously wrong here,” she said on the KELO special.
“There weren’t the glaring signs you see with people. It was more her physical appearance had started to change,” Kennecke told KELO. “She’d gotten skinnier, her eyes more hollowed out and it seemed like she was on something every time I saw her.”
“The more time I spent around her before her death, the more alarm bells went off in my head. And so we hired an interventionist to get her into treatment.”
Kennecke said she realized that she needed to take strong action on May 12, and scheduled an intervention to get her daughter into a treatment program for the following Saturday. Groth overdosed on May 16—three days before the intervention.
On the day her daughter died, Kennecke was interviewing parents who had lost children to drug overdoses.
Here is the full story of my 21-year-old daughter's tragic death due to fentanyl poisoning. I hope you'll watch it….
Watch the complete interview here:
Kennecke told CBS host Angela King, “My number one reason for talking about it is to erase the stigma that is surrounding addiction, especially the use of heroin, opioids.”
Kennecke said her daughter hid her drug problems from her parents—possibly because they were so close and shared so much love.
“As a child, you don’t want your parents to be ashamed of you,” Kennecke explained. “And there is so much shame that goes along with this. You don’t want to disappoint your parents.”
“I had to walk a very fine line between trying to help her, trying to talk to her, and alienating her.”
Kennecke hopes that by sharing her story, parents with at-risk children will realize that drug use—and drug addiction—is something they need to address before it is a problem—and something to act on swiftly at the first signs.
Addicts might not want help, Kennecke said but they need help. “Someone described addiction to me as if you’re falling off a high-rise building,” she said. “You can’t stop yourself.”
Angela Kennecke has created a charity called Emily’s Hope through the Avera McKennan Foundation. Emily’s Hope will provide funds for families which cannot afford the cost of treatment for their loved ones.
Lethal Dose of Fentanyl
It was not heroin which killed Emily Groth. It was a vastly more powerful synthetic opioid called Fentanyl.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), fentanyl, developed for treating extreme pain such as cancer pain, is 50 to 100 times as powerful as heroin.
Because it is so potent, much smaller doses are needed—which means smaller packaging and less risk for smugglers. Dealers often add fentanyl to less-potent drugs to give them an extra boost, the CDC reported.
However, since the drug is so potent, getting the dosage right can be problematical—just a tiny bit too much can be lethal.
Angela Kennecke said that her daughter’s fatal overdose was just such a mix of heroin and fentanyl.
“According to the autopsy report, Emily had six times what would be considered a therapeutic dose of fentanyl for the largest man,” Kennecke told KELO.
“She didn’t stand a chance. That fentanyl killed her almost instantly after she injected it.”