North Adams candlelight vigil held for those touched by drug addiction

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NORTH ADAMS -- As a recovering addict, Michelle Slater knows about the long road to recovery.

She told her story at Tuesday's second annual Candlelight Vigil of Healing, Remembrance and Recovery at Noel Field.

"I used drugs for a long time," she said. "I didn't care about anyone ... I would steal from anyone, lie to anyone, do whatever I had to do to get the next fix."

She went into a detox program two years ago and got clean for a second time, she said. She stayed clean and then "found a new way to live."

She was able to earn her GED, is going back to school to be a social worker, and now works with troubled teenagers, she said.

Tuesday's event, hosted by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's nb21 program, drew more than 100 people.

The event was for raising community awareness about the opioid epidemic, according to Lois Daunis, nb21 coordinator and vigil organizer. It also was meant to provide support for those in recovery and those who have lost a loved one.

Rebecca Pero Dodge, of the Have Hope Initiative, spoke about her own recovery, and reflected on those in the area who have died as a result of their drug addiction.

"Something I know for sure is that their untimely deaths will never be in vain, and we will never forget," she said.

She also urged addicts and their families to seek help.

"I'm grateful every day for my rock-bottom that became the foundation on which I built my life," she said. "And if I can do it, so can you."

Brandy Whipple, another recovering addict who spoke, spoke about the need to fight back against addiction. She credited work of nbCC's RX/Heroin Work Group, which has created brochures listing local resources for addicts and their families, and people in the religious community as things that have helped residents struggling with addiction.

North Adams Police Detective Mark Bailey encouraged attendees to remain vigilant in their neighborhoods and to not turn their backs on someone close to them because they're stealing to support a drug habit.

"Report them, because ultimately you're going to be helping them," he said. "I'd rather take thousands of calls a day to take information than to find someone who has overdosed."

Other speakers included Mayor Richard J. Alcombright and the Rev. David Anderson, of the First Baptist Church of North Adams.

The event culminated with attendees lighting candles and the release of balloons with written messages.

Though only the second in North Adams, it's the eighth year of the national vigil initiative coordinated NOPE (Narcotics Overdose Prevention & Education) Task Force, a Florida nonprofit whose mission includes education, treatment support, support for families and advocacy.

There will be 100 similar vigils held across the country this month, Daunis said.


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