NORTH ADAMS -- The area around the Noel Field Athletic Complex will glow tonight to offer hope for those who've fallen to addictions.
Since 2007, the Candlelight Vigil of Healing and Remembrance has honored the memories of more than 80,000 people who die annually from excessive alcohol use and the 28,000 lost to drugs.
This year, North Adams will for the first time join the national effort to raise awareness about the issues surrounding such addictions. The vigil begins at 7 p.m. at the Noel Field walking track.
Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and other community stakeholders, including the Have Hope Initiative, organized the event to highlight the number of people locally affected by substance abuse.
"Many lives have been destroyed by substance abuse and the disease of addiction," said city Mayor Richard J. Alcombright. "Too often this disease is perceived as deserved and shameful, leaving families and friends to grieve in silence or an addict to struggle alone to recover."
Alcombright will speak at tonight's event, along with the Rev. David Anderson, pastor of the city's First Baptist Church, city police and two recovered opiate addicts. After the speakers, attendees will light Chinese lanterns and observe a moment of silence.
Since 2000, 169 county residents have died of overdoses, Alcombright noted in a written statement; this statistic places overdoses second behind car accidents as the greatest cause of fatalities in Berkshire County.
Christine Macbeth is the CEO of the Brien Center, which offers mental health and substance abuse services in Berkshire County. She said of the 10,000 people the center treated last year, substance abuse was the primary diagnosis of more than 2,000.
Of those 2,000 diagnosed, 65 percent were alcoholics and 27 percent were addicted to opiates. Majorities of 75 and 60 percent reported having used alcohol and opiates, respectively, in the past year.
"What we surmise from the figures is that while alcohol use is still the most prevalent, the use of opiates has increased significantly and is reaching epidemic numbers," Macbeth said. "Opiate use is a real significant health issue facing Berkshire County."
Lois Daunis, grants manager and prevention coordinator for NBCC, said last April she attended a national prescription drug abuse summit in Orlando, Fla.
Upon learning of the national vigil there, she felt that the North Adams should host its own.
"We're ready for it. We have hundreds of candles," she said.
Next year, Daunis hopes similar vigils are held in South and Central Berkshire communities. Such demonstrations would parallel the enhanced efforts of NBCC, Berkshire Public Health Alliance and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to fight addiction county-wide, she said.
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