(CBS) — The day that news anchor Angela Kennecke found out her daughter died from a fentanyl overdose, she was working on a story about the opioid epidemic. “I got a frantic call from her dad, saying, ‘I think Emily’s OD’d. You need to get over here right now.’ I can’t even describe to you what it’s like to hear those words,” Kennecke said.
Kennecke, an investigative reporter with South Dakota CBS affiliate KELO, has covered the opioid crisis for about 10 years. She lost her daughter to the epidemic about four months ago and when she returned to work earlier this week, she shared her personal story with KELO viewers in the hopes that it might save other lives. On Friday, she spoke to “CBS This Morning” about her mission to end the stigma around opioid addiction and why she felt obligated to share her story.
“I thought I can let this loss, this devastation, destroy me or I can do something about it. And over the course of my career I have asked so many parents to talk to me and just people in general who are grieving who have had horrible, tragic things happen to them …and I thought, I have to talk about it. I have an obligation to talk about it. My number one reason for talking about it is to erase the stigma that is surrounding addiction, especially the use of heroin, opioids,” Kennecke told “CBS This Morning” on Friday.
The number of Americans dying from drug overdoses is dramatically increasing. The CDC estimates overdoses killed more than 72,000 people last year and it has become the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50. Emily struggled with addiction for more than a year, though Kennecke had no idea the drug was heroin. She says she tried to get her daughter treatment, but was too late.
“It was the most shocking thing to me. Needles. Middle-class kid, privileged, you know all these opportunities,” Kennecke said. “I just feel so compelled to let everybody know what happened to my daughter can happen to you, can happen to your child.”
“I knew my daughter had a problem. On that day we were planning an intervention. I just didn’t know what it was she was using. And I think we just need so much more awareness. We need so much more instead of judgment, compassion. And I’m trying to do what I can to make changes in my own community back home to get people the help that they need. And that’s all really I can do with this.”
Kennecke spoke to her daughter for the last time on Mother’s Day. Her message to parents: “Trust your instincts.”
“I had to walk a very fine line between trying to help her, trying to talk to her and alienating her or pushing her away. So I was always trying to approach it with love,” she said. “We were working to get her help, I just didn’t get there on time.”
For more information about the foundation Kennecke has started head to Emily’s Hope.