South Dakota moms meet with Congress to fight opioid addiction

Opioid Crisis

The latest statistics show 192 people die every day from overdose in the United States. At least two of those families in KELOLAND know that loss too well. That’s why two local mothers hope face time with U.S. lawmakers will help save other children from opioid addiction

Volunteers from the National Addiction Policy Forum, including KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke, met with South Dakota’s Congressional delegation. The focus is to talk about what Congress is doing to address addiction in America. 

Two mothers traveled to Washington D.C., and they’re bringing a message with them. They hope their tragedies paint a better picture for Congress of what opioid addiction can do to families. 

“It’s really important to Melissa and I that the stories of our children are not forgotten,” Kennecke, KELOLAND News anchor and South Dakota co-chair of the National Addiction Policy Forum, said. 

Kennecke’s daughter Emily overdosed and died of fentanyl poisoning on May 16th, 2018. Ten days later, Melissa Flynn’s stepson, Nick, also died of an overdose.

“I think that a large majority of the population still believes that addiction is a choice and that it’s not a mental health issue,” Melissa Flynn, South Dakota co-chair of the National Addiction Policy Forum, said. 

Kennecke and Flynn are working to reduce the stigma of opioid addiction, and they hope South Dakota’s delegation — including Senator John Thune and Representative Dusty Johnson — will help. 

“I can’t even imagine. I’ve got three sons and there isn’t any reason that it is her pain rather than mine. It could just as easily could be mine,” Johnson said. 

There are several pieces of legislation, including the CARE Act. It’s a bipartisan effort to provide the resources needed to begin treating the opioid crisis like the critical public health emergency it is. 

“In the last few years, you’ve seen Democrats and Republicans come together, set aside all the petty squabbling, because they acknowledge this is a national emergency,” Johnson said. 

“I don’t think in the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen anything that has captivated lawmakers and people who are involved with public policy in trying to come up with ideas and solutions that combat this,” Thune said. 

The goal is to have lawmakers help promote prevention, education, treatment availability and regulation. Flynn hopes more people learn felony convictions and prison time aren’t the answers for people struggling with addiction. 

“Nicholas had a felony at a very young age, and he was labeled, and someone suffering from addiction already feels bad about themselves. They have that shame,” Flynn said. “Piling on that shame and that stigma and taking away their future is not helping.”

Whether it’s on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington D.C., or the frontlines here at home; both Flynn and Kennecke plan to keep fighting, and they’re bringing the memories of their children with them wherever they go. 

“We just want to avoid any other mother or father or brother or sister having to experience the kind of loss we have and this for us is just a mission of passion,” Kennecke said.

Visit our Opioid Crisis Special Coverage page for resources and information on addiction.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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