Penny Rogers turns anguish into action with Face the Facts
By Adriana Camacho-Church
Penny Rogers had a family secret. Her son Vincent, 23, was addicted to heroin. Before that, it was prescription drugs for pain. He died of an overdose in 2017.
People judge the parents and the addict, Rogers, 55, says. “If a child is diagnosed with cancer there is no shame in announcing it to the world.”
But addiction is often viewed as a character flaw instead of a medical condition.
“So, for me it was a secret I didn’t share,” she says. “Once he was dead, and as I sat at the funeral home, I knew I had to start there. I put he died from an overdose in his obit. If I had to sum up all of my goals, it would be to be loud. To be loud about the (addict’s) and parent’s needs.”
Rogers believes almost everyone who dies from a drug overdose used drugs to escape some form of mental illness or distress.
After Vincent’s death, Rogers, a director at Pike Creek Dental, had two choices: Get up and stay busy or stay down and die. During that time of raw grief, Rogers got a dinner invitation to Strano and Feeley Family Funeral Home in Newark.
“How can you turn down dinner at a funeral home,” Rogers says with a laugh.
Funeral home owner Karen Feeley and manager Aldo DiNatale asked Rogers, “What can we do? We are burying too many addicts.”
In 2021, the nation’s escalating overdose epidemic set another record with more than 107,000 overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The provisional 2021 total translates to roughly one U.S. overdose death every five minutes. It marked a 15% increase from the previous record set the year before. In Delaware, 515 people died of a drug overdose in 2021. The death toll is the highest in state history.
In May of this year, 42 people died in Delaware due to a drug overdose. It was the most ever in a single month.
“They are the homeless, the rich, the 12-year-old,” says Rogers. “They are the mom and dad getting high and die … and their baby is strapped in the car seat.”
In 2018 Rogers, Feeley, and DiNatale founded Face the Facts, a non-profit addiction resources center. It now has 15,461 followers worldwide online.
Face the Facts connects people to treatment programs and services. The group collaborates with both state health agencies and addiction recovery organizations. Partners include the Delaware Dept. of Health and Social Services (DHSS), Hero Help, Phoenix Used Clothing, and Limen Recovery and Wellness.
Face the Facts also helps families cover funeral costs for those who died from a drug overdose. Since 2020, the Vincent Tambourelli Family Assistance Fund has paid for about 30 funerals by raising funds and collecting donations.
To mitigate the rising rate of overdose deaths, Roger says it may help teaching third and fourth graders about the perils of drug abuse and who to talk to. “Parents also need to know … where do I turn if my kid is getting high?”
Joanna Champney, Director of DHSS’ Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, says getting the right treatment is also important.
“People often seek to medicate their mental health issues and emotional distress with substances, so it is important for programs to address both issues,” says Champney. “Mental illness and substance-use disorders often both present at the same time for an individual. That means we should screen people for both types of needs and we should also offer care in an integrated way.”
Rogers says one of her greatest regrets is wishing she had known about the different mental and social services available when Vincent was alive.
On the third Wednesday of each month, Face the Facts holds a support group meeting at the funeral home. Attendees include folks in recovery, parents who have lost a child or have a child in active addiction, adult children whose parents are addicts or have died, and parents who want to educate themselves.
Face the Facts also holds weekly meetings in Kent County at the Code Purple Men’s Shelter and in September will hold meetings in Sussex County (location soon to be announced).
In May of this year, Rogers received the Oxford House Award for her volunteer work, contributions, and dedication to the addiction community. The Oxford House is a network of sober living houses throughout the state.
In 2020, Face the Facts helped initiate the first Overdose Awareness Day event in Delaware. Overdose Awareness Day is held globally on August 31, providing the international community the opportunity to grieve in public for those lost to addiction. It aims to educate, give support, and have addiction recognized not as a failure of morals or of willpower, but as a chronic global disease. The event originated in Australia in 2001.
This year the Delaware Community Response Team (DCRT) is collaborating with Face the Facts to host the popular event at Delcastle Recreational Park. DCRT will provide training and distribution of Narcan, a medication used for the emergency treatment of an opioid overdose. Last year, the City of Wilmington lowered flags to half-staff to commemorate the lives lost to drug overdose.
At the park, parents will have the opportunity to write the name of their child on a paper feather, ring a bell as they say the child’s name, and then place that feather on a giant set of wings, says Rogers. “It sounds small. But some parents have never said their child’s name at an event or in public.
— For more information on Delaware Overdose Awareness Day visit Delaware Overdose Awareness Day | Facebook or email email@example.com
— For more information on Face the Facts visit Face the Facts – Home | Facebook or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Delaware Overdose Awareness Day
Friday, Aug. 26 (5pm-7:30pm)
Delcastle Recreational Park
2920 Duncan Rd, Wilmington, DE 19808
The Delaware Community Response Team is partnering with Face the Facts to host its annual Overdose Awareness Day. DCRT will provide training and distribution of Narcan, a medication used for the emergency treatment of an opioid overdose. This will be a free family fun event including activities for children as well as remembrance activities for those lost to overdose. There will be over 40 local resources, guest speakers, and an honorary ceremony. There will be food trucks, music and prizes.