NORTH ADAMS — Addiction can be a lonely disease, but local leaders are rallying the community Saturday in solidarity with those affected by it.
The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life will co-host the annual Voices for Recovery Rally, Walk and Vigil at Noel Field on Saturday to honor those lost to addiction and celebrate those in recovery.
"This event is really all about bringing people in the community together to learn about the resources that we do have, to understand and build our skills to advocate for the resources that we still need, and to feel a sense of community and feel visible and understood," said Wendy Penner, the director of prevention and wellness at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition.
The event, held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., will include a rally and vigil at Noel Field and a walk through downtown North Adams to raise awareness about the disease of addiction. The theme of this year's walk, which will be led by North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and include a demonstration near City Hall, is "Our Families, Our Stories, Our Recovery."
Alcombright said families need to understand they're not alone.
"The work that's been done in Northern Berkshire County for the last couple of years is really starting to beat down the stigma issue...but at the same time, mental illness a very lonely illness and I think addiction is the loneliest disease," Alcombright said.
Last year's event included a "wall of remembrance and recovery" that featured the stories of nine local people. This year, it is a wall of remembrance, and it already features 31 local people, according to enna Waterman, who founded Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life.
"It's a very emotional thing for creating the wall, I get to know the stories, get to know the families," Waterman said, who founded Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life after the death of her son, Josh, in an effort to help addicts receive the help that they need.
In 2015, an estimated 33 people died from an opioid overdose in Berkshire County, according to the latest Department of Public Health estimates. It was the fifth consecutive year of an increase in the number of deaths, five more than were estimated in 2014.
Still, local leaders see progress in the services offered here and the community's commitment to ending the stigma surrounding addiction.
Penner noted that in the last year the city's police departments have become trained and equipped with naloxone, a powerful drug that can reverse an overdose. The methadone clinic in North Adams now sees more than 220 patients weekly, she said, the Brien Center has begun a day treatment program at Berkshire Medical Center's Northern Berkshire Campus. The Board of Health also recently approved a syringe exchange program in the city of North Adams.
Despite the increase in services, remaining needs include sober housing and a sustainable, funded recovery center, according to Penner. The Commit to Save a Life organization opened an office in downtown North Adams earlier this year and offers a wide array of services to increase access to treatment, but it's an all-volunteer organization, Penner noted.
Speakers at the event will include Andrew McKenna, who was an attorney for the United States Justice Department before his tailspin into opiate and heroin addiction, which ultimately led him becoming a bank robber.
Part of the goal of the event is to educate residents on the services that are available locally, and the groups that will be represented include Health, Berkshire Health Systems, the Brien Center, Tapestry Health, the Berkshire Opioid Abuse Prevention Collaborative, Narcotics Anonymous, and Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life.
The event is the fourth annual vigil held at Noel Field, now hosted by Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition after they picked up where the Have Hope Initiative left off. It is family friendly and will include live music and food.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376