Vigil to give survivors of overdose victims a chance to 'see they aren't alone'

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This story has been updated to reflect a change in the location  of the vigil. 

PITTSFIELD — Dozens of family and friends of local overdose victims expect to gather Friday to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of a drug-related deaths.

Berkshire Medical Center will host one of hundreds of vigils around the world Friday, which is International Overdose Awareness Day. The global event is annually held on the eve of September, Recovery Month, to promote treatment and mental health services for those suffering from substance abuse.

The BMC vigil is scheduled for 6 p.m.  in front of the Jones Building on North Street. In case of inclement weather, the gathering will move to the auditorium.

BMC's initial vigil in 2017 was smaller and held in the hospital chapel. But organizers this year wanted it to go mainstream, in part, to help more people overcome the stigma of losing a loved one to a drug overdose.

The Rev. AnnE O'Neil, one of BMC's three chaplains, sees firsthand how relatives of overdose victims are treated as she conducts the monthly bereavement group at the hospital. "One woman, in particular, keeps hearing thoughtless remarks about her son, who died three years ago," O'Neil said.

Since 2012, Berkshire County has averaged 28 opioid-related deaths each year through 2017, compared with five per year from 2000 to 2011— a nearly 600 percent increase, according to the Massachusetts Department Public Health.

O'Neil, a certified grief counselor, said the vigil is an opportunity for survivors of overdose victims to support each other as the opioid crisis escalates.

"They get to remember loved ones, speak of them and we hope they will see they aren't alone," she noted.

International Overdose Awareness Day originated in Melbourne, Australia, in 2001 has several other goals according to overdoseday.com:

- Give community members information about the issue of fatal and nonfatal overdoses.

- Send a strong message to current and former people who use drugs that they are valued.

- Stimulate discussion about overdose prevention and drug policy.

- Provide basic information on the range of support services that are available.

- Inform people around the world about the risk of overdose.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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