Stories shared at Easthampton vigil for those affected by opioid epidemic

  • Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, holding microphone, speaks during a candlelight vigil to mourn lives lost to opioid addiction, Friday, at Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux, right, joins a group of about 50 others during a candlelight vigil to mourn lives lost to opioid addiction, Friday at Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan, right, speaks during a candlelight vigil to mourn lives lost to opioid addiction, Friday at Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cherry Sullivan, who is the program coordinator of Hampshire HOPE, speaks during a candlelight vigil to mourn lives lost to opioid addiction, Friday at Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wendy Werbiskis speaks during a candlelight vigil to mourn lives lost to opioid addiction, Friday at Nashawannuck Pond in Easthampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 10/27/2017 11:34:12 PM

EASTHAMPTON — A community grieving over lives lost to the opioid epidemic gathered for a candlelight vigil Friday night, sharing stories of loss, recovery, and an urgent message that more needs to be done to address the growing crisis.

More than 50 people gathered at Nashawannuck Pond on the corner of Payson Avenue and Cottage Street to listen to parents and siblings of those lost to addiction, public health and social workers, and recovering addicts. The event marked the end of Red Ribbon Week, a national drug prevention campaign.

Wendy Werbiskis held back tears as she spoke about her son Danny, whom she lost to addiction three months ago, and the importance of ending the stigma around opioid addiction.

“No family should live in secrecy or shame because a loved one suffers from an addiction,” she said.

Kaisa Clark told a harrowing story of her sister Kristina, who suffered with an addiction, recovered, and succumbed to endocarditis last May when she was 32 years old. Clark said her sister did not receive the mental health support she needed, and was written off by doctors as just another “junkie.”

“Time and time again my sister was made to feel like her life didn’t matter, by the very people who were supposed to be saving her,” Clark said, fighting back tears.

Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan spoke at the vigil on the importance of providing support for people struggling with addiction.

“It’s that healing we can give them, and as we pray, I hope that we can find forgiveness, patience, and compassion for those struggling with addiction,” Sullivan said.

Corinne Briggs, community outreach liaison with the Easthampton Healthy Youth Coalition organized the vigil, with support from Hampshire HOPE, the Center for Human Development, Tapestry Health and the Northwestern district attorney’s office. Ruth Ever, youth coalition coordinator, facilitated the event and gave opening remarks.

“It takes a lot of courage to walk that path, fight this disease, and end the stigma,” Ever said.

Evelyn Harris’ choir, Ku’umba, and the Northampton Community Music Center started the vigil with a song, and sang again halfway through the ceremony. “Woke up this morning, with my mind still on freedom,” went the chorus.

Sue Twiss, an Easthampton resident and mother to a daughter in recovery, agreed that ending the stigma around addiction and encouraging those who need help to seek it is a crucial.

“Don’t be ashamed. Get rid of that feeling. It is a disease,” she said.

Twiss said she thinks the answer to the opioid epidemic is more resources, both for those in recovery and those trying to get back on their feet. She said halfway homes like the Wright Home for Women in Easthampton are crucial steps towards recovery.

“We don’t have enough resources and beds and hospitals,” Twiss said. “It’s sad when you have a loved one in a 28-day treatment program and when they get out of there they have no bed, no job, nowhere to go.”

After the vigil, Liz Whynott, director of the Tapestry Health needle exchange program, showed people how to properly administer the overdose-reversal drug Narcan. She said it’s important to understand that opioid use is a public health issue, not a criminal one.

“Heroin users are rational humans beings who can make capable decisions about their health,” Whynott said. “We need to value the voices of drug users and we need to involve them in the decision-making process.”

Cherry Sullivan, a coordinator with Hampshire HOPE, said she is glad to see more people carrying Narcan, and she encourages everyone to carry the nasal spray. Anyone can pick it up at a local pharmacy, she said.

On Saturday, as part of Drug Take Back Day, anyone can bring old or unused medications to a drug collection box at the Safety Complex at 32 Payson Ave. from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. A drug collection box was also present at the vigil Friday night.

On Wednesday, Nov. 29, the Easthampton Healthy Youth Coalition will hold a prevention and needs assessment meeting at Easthampton High School from 5:30 to 7:30. Open to the public, the meeting will assess local data on marijuana, alcohol, and opioid use.

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com


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