Pittsfield vigil marks International Overdose Awareness Day

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PITTSFIELD — Leo Fitzpatrick was waiting for a ride to the McGee Recovery Center on Febuary 25, 2018, when he got high "one more time." The 31-year-old died from an overdose before he made it there, his mother, Kate, said.

In May, Brian Paris, 35, had attended a narcotics anonymous meeting, like he did twice a day every day, and, while sober, wrote a letter that he believed his "angels" were coming soon. He died from an overdose several hours later, his brother, Jeffery, said.

More than 60 people, many of whom have lost loved ones to addiction, marked International Overdose Awareness Day on Tuesday by attending the third annual candlelight vigil at the Pittsfield Common.

"When I got the phone call from the hospital, I knew that he had died," said Kate Fitzpatrick, of her son. "It was a phone call that I had been waiting for, dreading, for the last 15 years. It was the worst day of my life and Leo would have said, `so far.'"

Fitzpatrick lost both her son Leo and her husband, whom she had been separated from, within a year and a half from one another.

She wants both of them to be remembered as more than "a drug addict," she said.

"They played roles in so many people's lives. Neither one of them wanted to be a drug addict," Fitzpatrick told those gathered in the park. "My son Leo fought the monkey on his back up until the day that he died."

In Berkshire County, 40 people died last year from an opioid-related overdose, and there were 210 overdose deaths in the Berkshires from 2010 to 2018. At Tuesday's vigil, several people carried photos of the people they've lost. Some donned T-shirts with their faces and names.

Jeffrey Paris said that he and his brother "picked a fight" with addiction about 10 years ago.

"My brother fought many fights in his lifetime; he won most of them. We fought this life together, side by side, until now," he said, reading a speech he read at his brother's funeral. "As our paths split, he was left with a battle alone. ... My brother was stuck fighting a battle alone and he went down swinging."

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Paris said that his brother had trouble communicating his feelings to others, and oftentimes would relay his words through him or his writing.

When Jeffrey Paris cleaned out his brother's room, he found literature about addiction and a letter.

"Life is short," Fitzpatrick said, reading his brother's letter. "I don't want to leave without my son and family knowing how hard I tried to live, knowing how much I really love them and knowing how much they really mean to me."

Brian Paris was afraid to leave his family behind, his brother said.

"His biggest fear was thinking we didn't understand his love or intent while here," he said. "I hope my brother's life can be a true testament to he or she who thinks they are greater than addiction."

Local organizations that offer addiction services set up tables Tuesday on The Common. Several of them spoke about their programming.

Dawn Windover, who organized the vigil and facilitates the monthly support group, Legacy of Love, said that she hopes holding public events like these will eliminate the stigma around addiction.

Windover's 23-year-old son, Derek, overdosed and died in 2015. She found out after his death that he wanted help, but wanted to do it on his own to make her proud.

"I always have been proud of both my boys. I believe that the stigma that surrounds this is why he was personally trying to do it himself," she said. "If you're someone who is fighting addiction, who is in recovery, who wants to get into recovery, I want you to keep fighting, to keep trying. I don't want to see your story end."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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