Donna Parker of Brigantine has been in recovery for 10 years. She also lost a brother and two nephews to drug abuse, including a long-time Brigantine resident.
“We’re losing a whole generation of young people to drugs,” said Parker, who works as a counselor in Egg Harbor Township.
So she welcomes a new addition to the hopes of the addicted.
The International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31 marks its initial appearance in Atlantic County. The event, which begins at 6:30 p.m., will take place on the beach between Suffolk and Somerset avenues in Ventnor.
“We have to break the stigma. People have to feel they can reach out for help,” Parker said.
International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event held to raise awareness of the epidemic. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends by remembering those who have been killed or injured by drug overdoses.
Speakers for Change, which provides speakers on the problem of drug abuse and addiction, is organizing the event in Atlantic County.
“We have a partnership with families who lost loved ones. We included them in the planning,” said Tracy A. Smith, president and founder of Galloway Township-based Speakers for Change, which serves the East Coast.
The occasion is also a time to remember those trapped and lost by these deadly drugs, said John E. Livezey, coordinator for the Brigantine Municipal Alliance for the Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse.
“Many of us have been touched by the heroin and opiate epidemic, which is sweeping our country,” Livezey said. “Atlantic County has been hit extremely hard. We have lost loved ones, and know of those whose lives have been affected by this epidemic.”
But it’s also a day to impart information on treating and preventing drug overdose, Smith said, such as ways to acquire and use products like naloxone, the opiate antidote commonly know by the brand name, Narcan.
Parker, 60, said she had to travel to Mississippi for treatment.
“I could not find treatment in the state,” she said.
Brigantine has terrific resources for a little town, she added. The Community Presbyterian Church, through Pastor John Scotland, offers daily 12-step programs.
“I wish we could see more,” she said. “The problem is the pace of addiction has changed. It’s no longer just about a drunk under a bridge or confined to urban communities. It’s soccer and football players and honor roll students.”
The event on Aug. 31 is another way to call attention to the epidemic, Smith said.
“We want more residents to get involved. It’s a dangerous attitude to say this won’t happen to my family. It’s already here in our backyard, taking lives right and left. Every four days someone dies in Atlantic County. You can see it in obituaries. Most are under age 35. I hope lots of good things will come out of this.”
International Overdose Awareness Day originated in 2001 in Australia through the efforts of Sally Finn and Peter Streker. Finn managed a needle and syringe program for the Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Victoria, Australia, and Streker coordinated the Community and Health Development Program at the City of Port Phillip in Melbourne.
They planned to hold a local event and give ribbons out for anyone who wished to commemorate a friend, partner or family member who had passed away. Any member of the community, even if not directly affected, could wear a ribbon to offer their condolences to those who had suffered overdose.
In the first year, 6,000 ribbons were distributed. The following year requests came from New Zealand as well as all over Australia.
Since 2012, International Overdose Awareness Day has been organized by the non-profit Australian public health body, Penington Institute, which connects substance use research to practical action.
“Through International Overdose Awareness Day, we aim to spread the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable and that overdose can affect anyone. We should all learn what an overdose looks like and how to respond,” said John Ryan, CEO of the Penington Institute.
This year’s theme of “Time to Act” has various meanings, he said.
“Yes, it’s time for decision makers globally to take action to help stop the escalating rates of overdose around the world. But also, Time to Act refers to the actions that individuals can take to save a life from overdose, such as by administering Naloxone to someone affected by opioid overdose,” Ryan said.
You can also show your support by wearing silver or white to signify hope for others.