Faces of a crisis: Opioid map honors lost loved ones

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) – It's the heartbreaking, human side to the opioid epidemic - the stories of lives lost.

So often people who die from an overdose simply become a statistic.

But an interactive map and memorial online is allowing families to honor their lives and make these losses personal, to all of us.

Scroll through the "celebrating lost loved ones" map and you'll see the faces of a crisis, the names behind staggering the numbers, just some of the 115 people killed each day from opioids.

Jamie Tranbarger lost her big brother, Daniel, nearly two years ago at age 29.

"He was my best friend," Tranbarger said tearfully. "He was...taking pills that a doctor prescribed him. A doctor!"

Kimberly Miller's daughter, Katie, died a year and a half ago, also at age 29.

"She was my baby," Miller said. "She was afraid she was going to use heroin. Her fear came true!"

Both of their lost loved ones are now part of a project that's growing online.

The interactive opioid map and memorial is tracked city by city, story by story, crowd-sourced directly by family members.

It's meant to humanize an epidemic that's gripped our entire country.

"At first it was like, I didn't really see names or numbers until I started zooming in on the cities and the more you zoom in, the more people you see on there...and it's...overwhelming," Tranbarger said.

"It brought them to life, if you will. It brought them to life. And it was just not another number," Miller added.

This visual record of victims was recently adopted by the National Safety Council.

More than 1,500 memorials have been uploaded since the map started four years ago.

And it began with just one face, Jeremiah Lindemann's brother, J.T.

Lindemann, an engineer with Esri in Colorado, created the map in memory of him.

"I had a personal fear that I didn't want to lose memories. And that's been pretty consistent with a lot of families too, that have added that," Lindemann said. "So we really wanted to bring light to that. There's lots of great people that are being lost and behind those numbers that are being reported. There's lots of families, lots of love that's being impacted."

Zoom in on Indianapolis and you'll find a photo of Daniel Bishop, smiling with his sister.

She says he loved art and music and above all else his daughter, nicknamed "Lula".

"I know she thinks about him. She cries for him," Tranbarger said. "She loved him so much and she reminds me of him."

It's why Tranbarger is trying to launch a non-profit, Lula's Love, to help kids left behind by a parent's overdose.

Also encircled in Indianapolis on the map is Katie Jo Miller, a fun-loving, kind-hearted mom of two.

Katie's mom says they both struggled with addiction.

"The difference is - I made it and she didn't," Miller said.

Kimberly Miller now works in addiction recovery, to help others.

She knows the struggle personally. And she posted on the opioid map to reduce the stigma.

"For the one who's still suffering to let them know that this could be you. For the parent, the caregiver - you're not alone," Miller said.

By the growing numbers seen on that map, they clearly are not alone. But by the stories shared and faces revealed, it's also clear these lives are worth being honored.

If you'd like to honor a loved one, it's simple to add them to the map.

There's a form to fill out, a few questions and a photo upload.

It gets reviewed, approved and posted after a couple of days.

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