‘We’re just regular people’: Black Balloon Day puts a face to addiction 

  • Shannan Landry gets ready for the Black Balloon Day she organized at the State House on Wednesday. Landy’s sister, Tanita Landry, who died of an overdose in 2016, is pictured at left. GEOFF FORESTER photos / Monitor staff

  • Shannan Landry sets up the photos for the Black Balloon Day she organized at the State House on Wednesday, March 6,2019. Landy's sister Tanita Landry is pictured at right. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Shannan Landry gets a hug as she starts the Black Balloon Day she organized at the State House on Wednesday, March 6,2019. Landy's sister Tanita Landry is pictured at right. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Suzanne Sepulveda gets a hug from Lisa Sprague at the Black Balloon Day at the State House on March 6, 2019. Sepulveda lost her son John O'Brien to an overdose in 2015 after he returned from Afghanistan. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Lisa Sprague talks to friends encouraging them to come to the Black Balloon Day at the State House on Wednesday. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Suzanne Sepulveda cries after seeing a friend of her son John O'Brien, who died from an overdose in 2015, at Black Balloon Day at the State House.

Monitor staff
Published: 3/6/2019 5:37:46 PM

Shannan Landry wants people to see her sister Tanita for who she was.

That means appreciating her as a talented singer-songwriter, a volleyball and softball player and an animal enthusiast. Too often people like Tanita – who died of a drug overdose in 2016 – are overlooked as nothing more than a number or data point, Landry said.

“Our society is becoming so numb to it that we aren’t taking a look at who these people are,” she said about the hundred of lives lost each year to the opioid crisis. “These are human beings. They aren’t throwouts.”

Landry printed out photos of 300 people, including Tanita, who have died of a drug overdose and displayed them on the State House lawn Wednesday afternoon. She invited those who have lost loved ones to stand with her and hold black balloons representing each life lost.

Landry, of Laconia, has been an organizer of the Black Balloon Day since last year, when she attended the first-ever event in Concord. The idea of the event, Landry said, is to put a face to the opioid crisis – one that people can’t ignore or turn away from.

“These are your neighbors and kids and sisters – it’s our friends, siblings, cousins, co-workers,” she said. “This is a disease that is taking out a generation.”

The Attorney General’s Office and state medical examiner estimated that 437 people died of drug overdoses in New Hampshire in 2018, most of them from opioids like fentanyl and heroin.

“As I looked through these pictures I couldn’t help but think of what these men and women’s aspirations were, who they loved, who loved them and who they left behind,” Landry said to the crowd.

Tanita entered her first rehabilitation program at 15 years old, and was in and out of recovery until she died three weeks before her 32nd birthday, Landry said.

Landry, who is 31 and seven months in recovery herself, said her family has tried to be open about the experience.

Her family wrote that Tanita died of a drug overdose in her obituary – something that was unusual at the time, Landry said. Tanita was featured in the 52 Faces in 52 Weeks project, which featured 52 obituaries of people who died of an overdose, by STAT media company.

Shannan’s mother, Patricia Hopkins, said she’s seeing more families write about their loved ones’ struggle with addiction in obituaries. It’s both empowering and sad for her, she said.

“Every time I see one, I cry because I know what that person is going to face for the rest of their life,” she said. “We’re just regular people doing the best we can.”

(Leah Willingham can be reached at 369-3322, lwillingham@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @LeahMWillingham.)




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