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This Kansas City group offers a space to grieve addiction deaths without shame or guilt

 Laura Bratt (left) and Dawn Owens, co-facilitators of the local chapter of GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing), which meets monthly at the Jewish Community Center.
Jewish Family Services
Laura Bratt (left) and Dawn Owens together will lead the local chapter of GRASP, meeting the fourth Tuesday of each month at the Jewish Community Center from 6:30 to 8pm.

In 2021, more than 2,600 people died of a reported drug overdose in Kansas and Missouri. A Kansas City peer support group is bringing together friends and families who have lost loved ones to substance abuse and addiction.

In March 2020, Dawn Owens' son Josh died after struggling with drug addiction. Owens was living in New Haven, Connecticut at the time but found solace in the peer support group GRASP — Grief Recovery After Substance Passing.

The group provides people who have lost loved ones to addiction and substance abuse a space where they can share their stories and receive mutual understanding and support.

Two years later, Owens moved to Kansas City to be closer to friends and family. Immediately, Owens realized there was an issue. The closest group like GRASP was in St. Louis.

Owens was motivated to get a group going and reached out to Jewish Family Services KC. Now, a local chapter of GRASP is up and running.

“I know what it was like to live with somebody who was struggling and lost that fight,” Owens said. “We just want to be able to reach out and give somebody a place to be — and to be themselves — and to feel like they have a community that they can talk about it with.”

Owens and co-leader Laura Bratt are hosting monthly meetings with JFS KC on the fourth Tuesday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park. The next meeting is July 25.

The only requirement to attend is having lost someone to addiction or substance abuse. It is not a group for those currently struggling with addiction or their families. Attendance is free, although JFS does ask that you register beforehand. All faiths are welcome.

Bratt, the other group leader, lost two family members to substance abuse and addiction. Unlike Owens, who was open and vocal about the death of her son, Bratt said these deaths were the family’s “dirty little secret.”

“Because there is shame on top of the grief, it is different from other losses,” Bratt said. “It’s very lonely. Not having others that you can connect with specifically about your grief makes grieving that much harder, if that's even possible.”

Missouri has set new records for overdose deaths in the last four years, and is poised to continue the trend this year. In Kansas, Attorney General Kris Kobach started a fentanyl awareness campaign in June to reduce deaths from the drug, which is 50 times more powerful than heroin and has caused overdoses in people who think they're taking something less concentrated. However, studies of similar enforcement programs show they're not usually effective.

The local chapter will have access to resources from the national GRASP organization for those who attend the group. Sondra Wallace, JFS director of mental health programming, said this will be the third peer support group they offer.

“The Surgeon General about two weeks ago released a long document telling us all how lonely and disconnected we all are in the world right now,” Wallace said. “It's just validating what the community has been telling us — that we need that space for lived experiences as well as the connections of the people in our communities now.”

As KCUR's health reporter, I cover the Kansas City metro in a way that reflects our expanding understanding of what health means and the ways it touches different communities and different areas in distinct ways. I will provide a platform to amplify ideas and issues often underrepresented in the media and marginalized people and communities in an authentic and honest way that goes beyond the surface of the issues. I will endeavor to find and include in my work local experts and organizations that have their ears to the ground and a beat on the health needs of the community. Reach me at noahtaborda@kcur.org.
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