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Vigils encourage remembrance, prevention for International Overdose Awareness Day

  • Jill Shanahan, who is the assistant director for drug user health at Tapestry Health and a member of the Hampshire HOPE coalition, speaks during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Florence-based health service Tapestry, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Northampton Police Officer Adam Van Buskirk, who is the lead officer of the Drug Addiction and Recovery Team, speaks during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Merridith O'Leary, who is the Northampton public health director, reads a proclamation from Mayor David Narkewicz during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wendy Werbiskis, of Easthampton, who lost her son, Danny, due to drug addiction, speaks during the vigil. Brendan Plant, who was the emcee of the event, holds a picture of Danny. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Billie Spivey, second from left, speaks beside Ryan Brunelle, from left, Wolf Valentin and Eric Wayne during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. The men are inmates of the Hampshire County Jail who are members of Northampton Recovery Center. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jess Tilley speaks during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. She is the co-founder of HRH413, a western Massachusetts-based organization that provides harm reduction training and consulting. She is also the founder of the New England Users Union. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Brendan Plant blows out his candle at the end of a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. He was the emcee. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wolf Valentin, second from left, speaks beside Billie Spivey, from left, Ryan Brunelle and Eric Wayne during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. The men are inmates of the Hampshire County Jail who are members of Northampton Recovery Center. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Albie Park, who is the co-founder of HRH413, a western Massachusetts-based organization that provides harm reduction training and consulting, speaks during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People of all ages hold candles during a candlelight vigil Tuesday at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People of all ages hold candles during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018 at Pulaski Park in Northampton in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Florence-based Tapestry Health, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted the event. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 8/30/2018 10:41:56 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Remembrance. Prevention. Honoring the lives of those who died of an accidental overdose. On Tuesday, community members gathered in Pulaski Park to further these goals in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, which is observed annually on Aug. 31. 

A second vigil will be held Friday at 6 p.m. at the Central Public Library in Holyoke. 

Florence-based health service Tapestry, along with the New England Users Union and the City of Northampton, co-hosted Tuesday’s event, which began in the afternoon with informational tables set up by organizations such as Tapestry, Northampton Public Health and Northampton Recovery Center. In the evening, attendees participated in a moment of silence and candlelight vigil. 

“We’re here not to just honor those that we’ve lost, but to also highlight the success stories that are going on and to highlight different things that are happening locally and nationally to combat the opioid epidemic and help save lives,” said Liz Whynott, director of HIV Health and Prevention at Tapestry. 

International Overdose Awareness Day was first established in Australia in 2001 by Sally J. Finn of The Salvation Army and now sees events held worldwide.

Along with providing information and resources for drug users and their loved ones, the event in Northampton also featured “SAFE SHAPE,” a safe injection facility exhibit. Whynott hopes that the exhibit will start conversations about such sites, which provide drug users with a space to use narcotics under medical supervision.

“It’s controversial, and people may have reservations about it, but the fact is that as a public health intervention, it’s actually really effective,” said Albie Park, co-founder of HRH413, a western Massachusetts-based organization that provides harm reduction training and consulting.

According to Whynott, these facilities are among the “creative ideas outside of the abstinence-only framework” that can help to curb opioid-related deaths.

“A lot of people aren’t ready to stop using drugs and struggle with it for whatever reason, but there’s a lot of things that can be done to promote healthy behavior,” she said.

HRH413 representatives also shared information on the “Reframe the Blame” program, which Jess Tilley, Park’s fellow HRH413 co-founder and founder of the New England Users Union, recently helped to develop. The initiative works to protect drug users from homicide laws that punish people who provided drugs to individuals who later died of an overdose.

“There’s no evidence that these sort of homicide laws have done anything to affect any sort of change in terms of peoples’ use, the amount that they’re using … there’s absolutely no evidence for it,” Park said.

He continued, “The laws are understandable in the sense that people are anguished by the loss, but the fact of that matter is that more often that not, the person that may have overdosed may have been their friend, somebody that they cared about that they’re using with.”

Park also stressed the importance of recognizing addiction as a non-partisan, public health issue, rather than treating it as a character defect.

“People are always really concerned about gateway drugs, but in fact the gateway drugs are homelessness, chronic pain, abuse,” Park said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.




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