Nashville mayor opens up after son's overdose: 'We can never replace our child'

PHOTO: Nashville Mayor Megan Barry during a news conference in her office, Aug. 7, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn.PlayMark Humphrey/AP
WATCH Nashville mayor returns to work after her son's overdose death

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, whose son died of an apparent overdose in July, opened up about his death for the first time today in an emotional news conference, hoping to use the tragedy to raise awareness to the growing opioid epidemic in the U.S.

"I don't want to let his death define his life, but we have to have a frank conversation about how he died," she said about her son, 22-year-old Max Barry. She referred to his past struggles with drugs and his treatment in a rehab program last summer.

In late July, after he died, Barry asked for privacy as she and her husband face life "without his laughter and love."

Today, she addressed the issue directly, using her platform to speak out about drug abuse in broader terms. Though she said her son's autopsy was not yet complete, she referred to the nationwide opioid crisis.

"I don't know what combination killed my son," she said, "but drugs did it."

A record breaking 52,000 Americans died of overdoses in 2015, according to a report by the Associated Press, a number that they reported is expected to rise as come data is compiled.

Last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department will send 12 federal prosecutors to cities battling addiction in an effort to crack down on the health care fraud and opioid scams that they believe are fueling the epidemic.

Barry, through her son's death and platform as a public figure, helped to put a human face on the crisis.

"Our hearts will always be sad and empty because we can never replace our child," Barry said.

She said that police came to her home at 3 a.m. to inform her about her son's death and that she initially thought that an officer died in the line of duty before they told her the news.

"If you see something, have a frank conversation yourself," she said, advising parents who might be in a similar situation on how to tackle the problem.

ABC News' Jason Volack contributed to this report.