Friday was International Overdose Awareness Day, and members of the Washington Court House community came together at the Rose Avenue Community Center to remember loved ones who were lost to overdoses and to bring awareness to the effects of the opioid crisis in Fayette County.
The event started with a balloon launch. About 100 people took part in the launch, and the purple, silver and white balloons floated into the sky together. In addition to balloons, each attendee was given a gift bag which contained information about overdoses.
After the launch, attendees convened inside the community center where they watched a video with images of people, many of them quite young, grinning on the backs of motorcycles, posing in new hunting gear, holding children who are smiling up at them. Each of these individuals died of an overdose.
The video featured 17 images, which is less than the number of people who died in Fayette County of overdoses last year alone, according to preliminary data. But, something about seeing those images flash on the screen, one after the other, did more to drive home the reality of the opioid crisis than any list of figures and statistics could. There were few dry eyes in the room when it ended.
The video was followed by a speech from local man Larry Young, who, after 20 years of drug use, has been clean for two. Young spoke of his own struggle with addiction and of the effects addiction has, not just on the addict, but on the addict’s family and community. Young said he finally got clean when he “wanted sobriety more than anything in this world.”
Now, he hopes to spread his message that recovery is possible to members of the community who are struggling with addiction. “Drug addicts are people, you know, they just need a hand,” he said, adding, “We’re never gonna end the war on drugs…but we’re damn sure never gonna give up the battle on it.”
After Young spoke, minister Jemar Harris shared his story. Harris, who lives in Chillicothe, struggled with addiction for decades before getting clean five years ago. He credited religion with his change of heart.
Harris encouraged attendees to reach out to those who are struggling with addiction, encouraging them to “go to them where they are.” He asked them to take a stand and say, “Enough is enough and we ain’t losing anybody else. This is a war we’re fighting,” he said, adding, “Don’t ever give up.”
The event was organized by local woman Nikki Virts, who recently lost her father to an overdose. She said she wanted to bring attention to “the epidemic that’s going rampant” and to give people a chance “to remember a loved one that they’ve lost… especially considering the stigma that’s associated with [overdoses].”
Virts has held multiple events to raise awareness of the opioid crisis in Fayette County, and she said she plans to continue to do so. Virts also helps to host meetings of grandparents who are raising their grandchildren, often due to their children’s struggles with addiction, at the Rose Avenue Community center. These meetings are held every other Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. Grandparents who attend will have the opportunity to enjoy desserts and coffee, and to speak with other people who can understand the challenges they’re facing firsthand.
Reach Megan Neary at 614-440-9124 or @MeganNeary2