‘Addiction does not discriminate’: Speakers remember loved ones lost at annual Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness event

  • Lindsey Werbiski spoke about her brother, Danny Werbiski, who died from a drug overdose in July 2017 at the Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness Event at Pulaski Park in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Amy Borowitz spoke about her late nephew, Jackson, who died from a drug overdose in 2018 on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness Event at Pulaski Park in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • K.B. McConnell shared his story of survival from drug addiction on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness Event at Pulaski Park in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Amy Borowitz speaks about her late nephew, Jackson, who died from a drug overdose in 2018, Wednesday, at the Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness Event at Pulaski Park in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Lindsey Werbiski spoke about her brother, Danny Werbiski, who died from a drug overdose in July 2017 at the Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness Event at Pulaski Park in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

  • Sheryl Holmes spoke about her late son Caleb, and his battle with drug addiction, on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness Event at Pulaski Park in Northampton.  STAFF PHOTO/EMILY THURLOW

Staff Writer
Published: 9/1/2022 7:55:22 PM
Modified: 9/1/2022 7:51:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — After losing her brother, Danny Werbiski, to a drug overdose in July 2017, Lindsey Werbiski sought to honor his memory by sharing his story and appearing as a guest speaker at sober living facilities and with those who have been incarcerated.

In that time, she’s also heard the stories of countless others. While each story was unique to the person that shared the experience, there was one constant that remained: no one wanted to become addicted to drugs.

“Addiction does not discriminate. It doesn’t care who you are, how you look, how hard you work, how much you are loved, or how hard you fight,” Werbiski said Wednesday night to a crowd of more than 80 people at Pulaski Park. “People who struggle with addiction or are in recovery are just that — they are people.”

She said that her son was one of over 72,000 people who died of an overdose in 2017. That number reached almost 108,000 people in 2021.

Werbiski was one of a handful of people who shared stories about the impacts of a drug overdose on individuals, their families and friends, as well as the community as a whole, as part of an Remembrance & Survival Overdose Awareness event in Northampton.

The annual local event coincided with the global recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, which is observed annually on Aug. 31. In addition to Northampton, similar events took place throughout the region from Holyoke to Greenfield. The event was first established in 2001 by Sally J. Finn, who was managing a needle and syringe program at the Salvation Army in St. Kilda, Melbourne.

In addition to speakers, there were several harm reduction and recovery resources available as well as testing, syringe access programs, and peer groups present.

Also at the Northampton event was Sheryl Holmes, who lost her son Caleb in 2018 to a drug overdose. When she came forward to speak, Holmes immediately engaged the crowd with a series of questions in an effort to see if they could relate.

“If there’s anyone here that has a son, brother, uncle, raise your hand. Is there anyone here who likes to eat spaghetti and meatballs, steak and brownies. Raise your hand. Anyone who played sports in school — football, wrestling or anything out on a team? Raise your hand,” she asked, pausing for a response each time. “I’ve just described my son to you. These are all things that he would have raised his hand about.”

Holmes described the impact her son’s overdose had on their family, and how Caleb became depressed when he was unable to return to sports after having surgery for a torn ligament on top of dealing with an obsessive-compulsive disorder he’d dealt with much of his life.

“I wonder if anybody deals with these issues that are not so pleasant by going for a bag of chocolates, the mashed potatoes, the mac and cheese … anybody impulsively shop when they’re upset? These are ways of escape that are acceptable in our culture,” she said. “My son chose a different route of escape.”

Holmes went on to reiterate that she decided to share her son’s story to honor him and anyone else who has died from an overdose, or who is still struggling with addiction.

“I want you to remember when you raise your hand, that they’re no different from you. They’re no different from me,” she said. “They all had wonderful qualities. My son was a wonderful son. And we must give them credit for the hard work they did when they were living.”

Among those in attendance were representatives from Tapestry, the Northampton Recovery Center, Learn to Cope, Nothing But Kindness, AdCare, Hampshire HOPE, the Northwestern district attorney’s office, Narcotics Anonymous, and the DART (Drug Abuse Response Team).

Although there have been several iterations of the event in Northampton over the past few years, Wednesday’s felt particularly heartfelt with the variety of speakers, said Michele Farry, deputy commissioner for the city’s Department of Health and Human Services.

As part of the event, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra issued a proclamation in recognition of the event, which acknowledges that opioid overdose is now the leading cause of death for people under the age of 50 with a death occurring every six minutes. It notes that Hampshire County experienced 18 overdose deaths in the first seven months of 2022 with two taking place in Northampton.

“I am deeply grateful to our dedicated Department of Health and Human Services, Hampshire HOPE, the DART program, the Northampton Recovery Center and all of our partners for their heart-filled work here in Northampton and throughout Hampshire County, around prevention, eradicating stigma and supporting individuals and families where they are,” Sciarra said. “I am proud to be part of a city that devotes resources to harm reduction to help affect change. I am honored to be part of this important remembrance.”

The proclamation also states that Northampton is dedicated to raising awareness and reducing the stigma of drug-related deaths, and will continue to provide staff resources to support overdose prevention and harm reduction strategies.

“Whether that means using safer, not using alone, or finding multiple pathways to recovery, we support all people,” said Farry. “It’s in an effort to reduce stigma. It’s also in an effort to build relationships and connections with people in the community.”

Emily Thurlow can be reached at ethurlow@gazettenet.com.
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