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Utah mothers remember sons by encouraging addiction recovery

Posted at 1:01 PM, Aug 31, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Events marking International Overdose Awareness Day will be happening across Utah on Thursday to honor the countless lives lost and altered by overdose including the Olsen family.

Almost eight years have passed since Terry Olsen lost her son Dane to a heroin overdose at the age of 25.

“This was not in the script for our life. This was not how I pictured this beautiful, outgoing, energetic, funny young man’s life to end,” she said.

Terry traces her son’s opioid addiction to a 2007 ATV wreck that almost cost Dane his leg. For several years, he underwent many surgeries while receiving prescription drugs from doctors to manage the pain, which eventually turned into an addiction.

Terry and her husband didn’t notice it right away, but even after they did, Terry said she had more questions than answers on how to help him. Ultimately, a Washington-based nonprofit called Changes gave her the information she so desperately needed when Dane was alive.

“I could either spend the rest of my life being bitter and miserable and sad, or I could figure out what to do with this and the experiences that we went through… and how we could put that in a context that we could share with other people,” she explained.

Not long after her loss, Terry began a Utah chapter of the nonprofit. She also collaborates with others in the community who are working toward the same goal of preventing overdose deaths.

Susan Peterson lost her son Karson to complications from a drug overdose in 2011.

“Education is the key. People need to be educated about this disease. It is a disease,” she explained.

Susan, too, has turned her hurt into helping others through her nonprofit called Sobriety Foundation.

Those who qualify receive a scholarship to live in a sober home for two months and get help finding a job.

In total, the foundation has gifted about 1,800 scholarships so far.

One of the recipients was Evan Done, who is currently in long-term recovery thanks to the resources provided to him.

“I think people oftentimes don’t realize how much of a struggle it is to get better from any sort of addiction, but particularly, you know, a substance addiction,” explained Evan, who now works as an Associate Director for the Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness.

Typically, he said a person recovering from substance addiction needs support from many different areas including stable housing, reliable transportation, employment, as well as effective interventions and treatments.

USARA will be hosting an event on the South steps at the Utah State Capitol to mark International Overdose Awareness from 7-9 p.m. Thursday. They’ll also stream the event via Facebook live.