Nashville Mayor Mourns Son's Overdose Death, Urges Families To Talk About Addiction

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Nashville, Tenn., the opioid epidemic has become a personal tragedy for the mayor. Her 22-year-old son died last month in an apparent overdose. Mayor Megan Barry spoke about it publicly for the first time yesterday. Barry is calling for families to speak openly about addiction. Tony Gonzalez of member station WPLN has more.

TONY GONZALEZ, BYLINE: The knock on the mayor's door rustled her from bed around 3 a.m.

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MEGAN BARRY: And the way my transom is, is I can see through. So I could see a police officer.

GONZALEZ: She assumed, as mayor, that it was bad news, perhaps about a fallen officer or a family that needed to be consoled. But it was something else, something about her family.

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M. BARRY: And he told me that Max had passed away. And he had to repeat it several times because that was not what my brain could hear.

GONZALEZ: And then, days of mourning - and about as public as can be. Civic leaders and everyday citizens turned out to two open memorials, along with songwriter and family friend John Prine.

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JOHN PRINE: This is a song called "Souvenirs." This is for Max Barry. (Playing guitar).

GONZALEZ: The mayor received hugs for hours from hundreds who came. While she didn't speak at the funeral, her husband Bruce did.

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BRUCE BARRY: We all, of all ages, have made incredible mistakes in our lives. And we almost always walk away from them. And he made one that you don't walk away from. But the point I really want to make here is that the circumstances tell the story of his death and not the story of his life.

GONZALEZ: It was a life of humor and hiking and love of the outdoors. Yet, from the beginning, there was no hiding from the fact that an overdose claimed her son.

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M. BARRY: The reality is - is that Max overdosed on drugs. I don't know exactly what the combination of drugs was. But I do know, and we all know, that that's what caused him to die.

GONZALEZ: She says paramedics near Denver, where her son was living, administered Narcan, the anti-overdose medicine. But it didn't save his life. Nashville first responders have been carrying Narcan, too.

Overdoses have been increasing. There were 261 deaths in the city last year. And the mayor has budgeted for a new opioid specialist this year. She says she'll find ways to do even more, including using her platform.

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M. BARRY: If you see another child who is struggling, don't ever hesitate to pick up the phone and call that parent because parents, you know, sometimes we don't see everything that's in front of us.

GONZALEZ: The mayor had taken her son to rehab last summer before he completed his bachelor's degree.

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M. BARRY: Our hearts will always be sad and empty because we can never replace our child.

GONZALEZ: Mayor Megan Barry says her son's problems already inspired some of her policies. And now his death, which shows that overdoses can affect any family, will add urgency to her work. For NPR News, I'm Tony Gonzalez in Nashville.

(SOUNDBITE OF YEARS OF RICE AND SALT'S "AMONGST YOUR EARTHIEST WORDS THE ANGELS STRAY")

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