Martha Graham and her daughter Heather Kopp are on a mission to spread awareness about the dangers of fentanyl. After two deaths in their family in the same year due to the synthetic opioid, Graham came up with a way to honor her great-granddaughter and grandson, who both died due to drug-related causes within two months of each other.
Emberlynn “Emmy” Allen, age 3, was one of three lives lost in a car accident on March 18, 2021. The vehicle, driven by Dylan Cole Howard, age 24 at the time, crossed the center line on KY 81, striking a vehicle driven by Joshua Fox, 35. Two of Howard’s passengers and Fox were pronounced dead at the scene.
In December, Howard was sentenced to 20 years in prison for second-degree manslaughter.
“Cole was injured, too. He broke his neck. They discovered fentanyl, which is why he experienced a tough sentence,” Graham said.
After losing Emmy, the family was shaken again on April 1, 2021, when they received the news that Zachary Allen, age 26, had overdosed and died.
Zachary was Emmy’s father and the grandson of Graham.
“He was an addict who had been to rehab several times,” Graham said. “He was doing better. After losing Emmy, he relapsed and bought something off a coworker and died immediately. We couldn’t believe it. He was like a son to me.”
Zachary’s mother Heather Kopp took the tragedy as a spark to start raising awareness, both about the dangers of fentanyl and the personal loss of her son’s life.
“I have lost a child to Substance Use Disorder (SUD). It used to be every 11 minutes we lost someone,” Kopp said. “Now it’s every 5 minutes. Seventy percent of the overdoses last year were fentanyl related.”
After losing her grandson and great-granddaughter so close together, Graham had the idea to raise money to purchase benches in Zachary and Emmy’s honor, in hopes to deter others from falling into the trap of fentanyl.
“I chose the benches,” Graham said. “There are two of them. One is here in Owensboro at the judicial center and one is in Louisville at the Beacon House, a transitional house that helped Zachary a lot. It was a great place.”
The back of the benches includes a sign detailing the story of Zachary and Emmy, serving as a reminder to those that visit that the effects of drugs come with a costly price.
Regarding thoughts on prevention, Graham said she doesn’t know the solution but wishes she did.
“Middle school is too late,” she said. “They are already into stuff. I really think it’s the maturity level you have to be careful with. Not to shove information at them and scare them, but to inform them. As early as fourth grade, they need to know not to take anything from anyone.”
Graham also hopes to see a change in the stigma, from the mindset that addicts have a choice to the fact that they are struggling with a disease.
“Fentanyl ruins a multitude of lives. It’s such an evil cycle, a merry-go-round. Addicts are looked down upon, but it’s a disease, not a choice,” Graham said. “You can’t get off of it alone. We don’t need to look down on them. It’s a horrible, horrible disease.”
Graham is proud to watch her daughter take this unthinkable tragedy and use it to spread awareness.
“For Heather, this has become a mission,” Graham said. “She is so good at speaking with people and holding groups. She and her husband are very active.”
The mother-daughter duo not only wants to raise awareness about the dangers of this drug, but also want to see the laws change so that someone who causes death through their actions while under the influence of fentanyl will face even stricter penalties.
“It’s murder. He got in the car. He knew he was under the influence, yet he was only sentenced to 20 years,” Kopp said. “One pill kills. If it doesn’t come from your pharmacist, don’t take it.”
The Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 215 earlier this year, which includes a clause about “Dalton’s Law.” It makes importing fentanyl, carfentanil, or fentanyl derivatives from another state or country a Class C felony. Those convicted of importing fentanyl would be required to serve at least 85% of their sentence.
To the family, this is a step in the right direction. They are thankful for the quick funding of the bench project through the use of a GoFundMe page. Although they can not get Emmy and Zachary back, they will continue to tell their story.
“I haven’t had a day where I haven’t cried since all this happened,” Graham said. “I am so very angry at our government and our district attorneys. I’m angry at our border where it’s coming over day after day. This is taking our youth, our future.”