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Overdose Awareness Month | Family remembers, honors man taken by drug addiction with t-shirt campaign

Michael Gross died three years ago after an accidental heroin overdose shortly after getting out of rehab
Credit: Terri Dalton Miller

BELTON, Texas — It's been three years since Michael Gross died from an accidental heroin overdose at his parents home on Aug. 24, 2018, ten days after he had been released from a rehabilitation facility.

"That day was devastating, I mean there's nothing like losing a child," said Terri Dalton Miller, Gross's mother. "It was a very sad sad day, a sad day for my whole entire family."

Miller, along with friends and family gathered Saturday morning at Yettie Polk Park in Belton to take a walk with anyone who wanted to join them to help raise awareness about the stigma and shame many addicts face, often times alone.

"We want people to talk about addiction and the stigma around mental health," said Kristen Gross, Michael's older sister. "I think a lot of the reason Michael did not do well in his recovery is centered around shame. He was very shameful and he felt like he did not fit into society."

Family and friends donned purple shirts with giant white lettering that read "STOP THE STIGMA," a campaign organized by the family who believes that every person struggling with addiction should be given the chance and resources to recover.

"We need more resources and we need more education and we need longer in-treatment programs at these rehab facilities," Kristen said. "Insurance cuts off after 30 days they just aren't ready at that point, they need longer."

Michael's family watched as he struggled with his addiction and did everything they could to help him but it wasn't enough.

"Heroin and opioid addiction is such a powerful addiction. The people aren't choosing to use recreational drugs, they have an addiction and it's like a cancer on them, they are surviving using those drugs," Kristen said.

The walk in Belton on Saturday was one the Gross family hopes to continue in the future and they believe not talking about it and living the truth is detrimental moving forward.

"It's our family's opinion that if you keep this a secret and you don't talk about it or don't talk about Michael, we don't want to give it power," Miller said. "We want to take that power and turn it into awareness and let other people know that this is an average person and real people with mental health problems who need help."

A central part of the walk were the Stop the Stigma t-shirts. The proceeds from the sales were to be donated to Christian Farms Treehouse, a substance abuse treatment facility in Temple.

Michael's family called him the gentlest soul and he would help anyone he could, including homeless people with nowhere to go. The world, she said, lost an incredible young man three years ago.

"He had a huge heart, he really did," Miller said. "We had a lot of people come out later and tell us how he had helped them, talked them through things. He just loved the underdog and he always wanted to help other people."

Michael's family and friends know the walk Saturday won't bring an end to the struggle of drug addiction and those that never find a way out, but it's a step in the right direction for them. As for Terri, she hopes Michael knows how much she loves him to this very day and that he'll never be forgotten.

"I wasn't ashamed of him and his family wasn't ashamed of him. We understand and we're happy now that maybe he's at peace because the struggle was real, I mean it was real, and there just wasn't enough help for him," she said.