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Heroin overdose victim's mother channels heartbreak to help others heal

Published: Sep. 23, 2016 at 1:21 AM EDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2016 at 1:41 AM EDT
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BEACHWOOD, OH (WOIO) - The mother of an overdose victim decided to turn her grief toward a mission to save others caught in the grip of the drug.

"She was an incredible human being," said Sheryl Hirsh.

A smile that lit up the room, Hirsh remembers her daughter, Melissa Rae Koppel, for her big heart and limitless potential.

"She always wanted to help people, she loved children, and I know in my heart she'd want to help others," said Hirsh.

For years, Koppel had constant migraines. Her mom said she was in pain 24 hours a day. Koppel depended on painkillers for more than two years before she got treatment.

"I think we need to remember no one wakes up and says, 'I want to be an addict today,'" Hirsh said.

Hirsh had no idea her daughter was using heroin until the day her daughter died.

"I screamed bloody murder and I ran to the nurses and said, 'She took heroin. You have to save her,'" Hirsh said.

Hirsh isn't alone -- the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner said there could be more than 500 overdose deaths just this year. September is on track to be the deadliest month on record.

"I know so many other mothers, like myself, they won't admit it, but you get shoved into a closet because you're ashamed and don't want people to see your child or think of them as an addict," Hirsh said.

Instead of hiding, Hirsh decided to step out and share her story. She started substance abuse programs she hopes help people learn about addiction.

"There's only way to fight this disease, and that's to understand it," she said. "I don't want other parents to suffer. Too many parents are suffering, and too many spouses, and too many brothers and sisters are suffering."

The substance abuse programs are broken into four weekly sessions. Each session has a different panel with different discussions.

There is one more program in this month's series being held Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m. at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood. It's free and open to the public.

The sessions aim to teach those in attendance about substance abuse and the effect the epidemic has on local communities. For more information, call 216-368-2091, or visit Case Western Reserve University's website.

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