Portraits Of Those Killed By Heroin Bring Healing And Awareness Heroin and other opioid overdoses are projected to kill 400 people in New Hampshire this year. Many of them are young. And now one mom is painting portraits of those who overdosed.

Portraits Of Those Killed By Heroin Bring Healing And Awareness

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Four hundred - that's how many deaths New Hampshire expects occurred in 2015 from overdoses of heroin and other opioids - one for every 3,000 people in that small state. It's affected people from all backgrounds and in all places there. In the small town of Plaistow, one woman is painting portraits of the young people killed by addiction. NPR's Tamara Keith has this report.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: When Jackie Zanfagna died last year at 25 years old, her parents did something bold. In the first sentence of her obituary, they acknowledged what killed her - an accidental overdose of heroin. Her mom, Anne Marie Zanfagna, is an artist. But she says for six months after her daughter died she was too devastated to pick up a paintbrush.

ANNE MARIE ZANFAGNA: I didn't want to shower, all kinds of things; you just don't want to do anything. But I figured I have to start doing something. And then I decided that I wanted to paint a picture of Jacqueline.

KEITH: It is an oil portrait on canvas in bright purple, pink and black. In it, Jackie looks out, a soft smile on her lips. But Anne Marie Zanfagna didn't stop there. Zanfagna has started painting portraits of other young people killed by overdoses. Once a month, she and her husband attend a Sunday night service at the First Baptist Church of Plaistow.

AARON GOODRO: Addiction has touched your family in some way or your friends or maybe yourself in some way. That's why you choose to be here tonight.

KEITH: It's a unique service for those in this small community who have lost loved ones or are recovering from addiction. Some weeks, as many as 80 people attend, filling the pews. At a recent service, Pastor Aaron Goodro called Zanfagna up to the altar.

GOODRO: Anne Marie, our artist friend, would you show us some of your latest work?


KEITH: Her husband, Jim, holds the picture of Jackie. Then the pastor calls up the parents of other young adults Zanfagna has painted. The faces of all smile through bold, bright colors. After the service, Diane Yelle thanks Zanfagna for painting her son.

DIANE YELLE: Oh, my God. I am in love with this picture. I really appreciate it. You have no idea how much I appreciate it.

ZANFAGNA: I'm glad you do. It's very healing for me, too, because I know how you feel.

KEITH: Yelle's son Shawn died of an overdose in September of this year. He was 30 years old.

YELLE: I feel like he's looking at me. Those eyes, they kill me because they're smiling, and we - all we did was laugh together. You know, it's a nice way to remember him.

KEITH: Another mom struggling to deal with the loss of her son is Amanda Jordan. Her son Christopher died of an overdose in September.

AMANDA JORDAN: It just captured him. I mean, she captured the smile. And I just feel like he's alive in that picture. That's Christopher, not the sad, you know, I can't do today or I have to have something to get me through today. That smile is what he always had.

KEITH: Zanfagna is working on another portrait now and will do as many as she can. She wants to show them in the local public library, but Jordan hopes she aims higher - an exhibit in the New Hampshire Statehouse.

JORDAN: The statehouse would be great. You know, it - America needs to know that there's a problem, an absolute huge, huge problem.

KEITH: Tamara Keith, NPR News, Plaistow, N.H.

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