KY mother hopes sharing her grief will save lives

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - A Kentucky mother lost her child, but she hopes his legacy can help win the country's war with addiction.

"I have to make a difference," said Nikki Strunck in an interview Thursday.

Strunck lost her son to an overdose in early 2016. Since that day, she's relived her personal horror day after day, throughout Kentucky and Thursday at the White House.

Strunck said as her son fought his addiction, she told him God let him survive his overdoses so he could share his story and save others. His death hasn't shaken her faith. "God still has a plan and a purpose for his story," she said, "it's just up to me to go out and tell his story."

The White House invited Strunck and about 200 people similarly dedicated to tackling the opiate epidemic to discuss the next steps. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said listening sessions like Thursday's are critical, "to continue getting good ideas on how we keep driving forward with progress."

Azar said he's encouraged by a decrease in the number of prescriptions written for legal, powerful painkillers. He said the White House is budgeting more than $13-billion over the next several years for increasing treatment availability, data collection, and research into alternative pain management.

Azar dismisses critics who suggest planned Medicaid and Obamacare cutbacks will prevent the country from making progress. "What we're doing we think actually refocuses the states, and our money, and energies exactly where needed the most around the opioid crisis," he said.

North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum also attended Thursday's event, continuing her campaign to end the stigma surrounding addiction. She spoke with Strunck ahead of the meeting, and said Strunck's story moved her.

"I just said 'thank you for the courage, for standing up,' you know, to talk about it," said Helgaas Burgum, "because she will be helping so many other people that are afraid to come forward because of the stigma, she's helping to eliminate the stigma even though she's had a heartbreaking loss in her life."

Strunck said it's critical that no-wait treatment options become available everywhere, so a moment of clarity can turn into a lifetime of sobriety.

Congress will continue debating the details of the White House's plan in the weeks and months ahead.

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