Overdose Awareness Day seeks to reduce stigma of substance abuse

More than 3,000 New Jerseyans – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles – died of a drug overdose in 2020, but at least some of those deaths could have been prevented by reducing the stigma of substance abuse.

That’s the message that International Overdose Awareness Day wants to get across at the annual event, which is set for Aug. 31 at 6 p.m. in Lawrence Township’s Central Park, off Eggerts Crossing Road.

The free event is co-sponsored by the Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, the Prevention Coalition of Mercer County, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office and the Mercer County Police Chiefs Association.

The event will feature a Narcan demonstration, used as an antidote to a drug overdose.

There will be a drop box for unused or expired medicine to prevent the drugs from falling into the hands of people who want to experiment with them.

A commemorative shoe display will serve as a reminder of the people who have been lost to drug overdoses. Attendees may bring a pair of shoes worn by a lost loved one in a symbolic gesture.

A memorial photograph table will be set up nearby.

Organizations that offer help for recovery and treatment will set up tables to provide information to attendees.

Lawrence Township Councilman John Ryan will offer some opening remarks. Lawrence Township is hosting Mercer County’s sixth annual International Overdose Awareness Day.

Barbara Sprechman, the assistant executive director of the Mercer Council on Alcoholism and Drug Addiction, will speak about the history of International Overdose Awareness Day, the impact of overdoses and how it has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stacy Ross will talk about her recovery journey and about the recovery community itself in Mercer County, while Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo Onofri will also offer some remarks.

The event will wrap up with a candlelight vigil. Attendees who want to share a memory of their lost loved one may do so by stepping into the inner circle of the vigil area.

The 3,200 New Jerseyans who died are among the 81,000 Americans who succumbed to a drug overdose in 2020, according to a proclamation adopted by the Lawrence Township Council that declared Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in Lawrence.

“It is unfortunate that there have been so many deaths,” said Ryan, as he prepared to read the proclamation at the council’s July 20 meeting.

For every drug overdose that results in death, there are many more non-fatal overdoses, the proclamation said. Each one takes an emotional and economic toll on the individual and their loved ones.

“Addiction can fuel feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment, depression and hopelessness, causing individuals to resist seeking treatment and support,” the proclamation said.

But International Overdose Awareness Day sends a strong message to former and current substance users – that they are valued and that overdose death is preventable, the proclamation said.