Nashville Mayor Megan Barry Says Son's Overdose Death Deserves 'Frank Conversation'

Aug 7, 2017

For the first time since tragedy struck her family, Mayor Megan Barry spoke publicly on Monday to call on families to have difficult conversations about addiction.

The mayor’s 22-year-old son, Max Barry, died last month of an overdose near Denver.

“I don’t want his death to define his life, but we have to have a frank conversation about how he died. The reality is that Max overdosed on drugs,” Barry said. “My hope is that it may inspire and encourage other parents out there … and that if that saves one life, what a blessing.”

The mayor, who resumed her work duties after nine days away, described a “new normal.”

“I get to get up every day now, and I don’t ever get to talk to my son again,” she said. “Max is not going to text me back. I’m not going to hear his voice again.”

By Wednesday, The Tennessean reported that the completed toxicology report showed Max Barry died from a combination of drugs: Xanax, two opioids — liquid methadone and hydromorphone — and marijuana.

The mayor’s mourning has been as public as can be. Civic leaders and hundreds of everyday citizens turned out to two open memorials, where Barry received hugs for hours.

Friends and relatives have painted Max Barry’s life as one of humor and a love of the outdoors.

Yet from the moment that his death became public, there was no hiding from the fact that an overdose claimed his life. The mayor has now shared that her family took Max Barry to rehab last summer in Florida before he completed his bachelor’s degree. He was living in Littleton, Colo., and working in construction.

The mayor said paramedics administered Narcan to her son — the anti-overdose medicine — but it didn’t save his life. Nashville first-responders have been carrying the antidote as well as overdose deaths rise. There were 261 overdoses in the city last year, prompting the mayor to budget for a new opioid specialist.

And she said she’ll find ways to do even more, including using her platform.

“If you see another child who is struggling, don’t ever hesitate to pick up the phone and call that parent,” she said, “because parents, you know, sometimes we don’t see everything that’s in front of us.”

She said her son — her only child — can never be replaced.

“But I know that with my faith and with my family and with my friends, we will get through this,” she said. “The reality is that I’m back to work. And we have a lot of work to do in Nashville.”

On her first day back, Barry began by visiting students at Pearl Cohn High School and Buena Vista Elementary, where she said it was meaningful to be around children.

And the mayor quoted from the Jason Isbell song “Something More Than Free,” which performed during her inauguration in 2015.

“There’s a line in it that says, you know, ‘I thank God for the work,’" Barry said. "Right now, I thank God that I have all this work to do."