On Aug. 31, Triumph hosted its 7th annual public event for International Overdose Awareness Day at Sarg Hubbard Park. Counselors, staff, clients and families along with community leaders and others gathered to share stories of hope, offer support and create a safe space for mourning those we’ve lost.
The event, which included vendors and other resources, offers an opportunity to raise awareness, and offer support and education about the drug overdose epidemic. Similar events are held around the world on this day each year.
International Overdose Awareness Day is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.
Triumph is grateful, once again, to our Overdose Awareness Day sponsor Gesa Credit Union.
“I didn’t want to be clean, I didn’t want to be sober,” Gus tells those gathered for this year’s International Overdose Awareness Day commemoration at Sarg Hubbard Park. He speaks softly, pauses to gather his emotions. “But by age 26, I was lost, completely lost. My choice was to do time or get sober.”
“These past two years have been the best of my life,” he tells the crowd. “I want to live. I want to stay clean.” Nearby, 81 purple pinwheels spin in the breeze. Each represents a 2022 Yakima County overdose death; 70 percent of those related to fentanyl.
“Today I get to have fun with my nieces and nephews; just yesterday we went to the zoo. Today I want to be there for the next suffering addict. I would tell anyone living with addiction to just try it, give yourself a chance. I’m here. I am here.”
All around Gus are staff from Triumph, patients, families, community partners, legislators and others who came to the park remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind. International Overdose Awareness Day, held each Aug. 31, is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose. The event offers an opportunity to raise awareness, offer support and education about the epidemic of drug overdose.
Andy steps up to take the microphone to tell a very different story.
“My wife and I lost two sons to fentanyl,” he tells the crowd. It takes a moment before Andy tells the audience, “We have lost 50 percent of our children to fentanyl. Our son had been clean two years when his brother died. He relapsed. When we hadn’t heard from him we were worried. I broke into his apartment. And I found him. I. Found. Him. I can’t tell you . . . It took the breath out of my lungs. It takes the breath out of my lungs, still.”
It seems as though Andy cannot go on, but he does.
“We have to do something about this crisis — from beginning to end. Triumph is doing something; the two-year programs work. The two-year programs change behavior.
“Believe me, if fentanyl hasn’t touched you it will.”
Dr. Zuckerman’s story
“The 81 deaths in 2022 in our community are 81 opportunities for us to learn how we can evolve,” Dr. Gillian Zukerman tells the audience. She punches her words into the mic. “Because we have failed to evolve to the hurricane of fentanyl.
“We must stop the stigma of addiction.
“We must stop ‘othering’ the community of users. They are our community.
“We must get more comfortable with the concept of harm reduction: ‘Make sure you use with a friend.’ ‘Make sure you have naloxone with you in case of overdose.’ ”
In the back row, two generations of a family bow their heads. They wear matching gray T-shirts with the names William and James on the back. Above the names it says, “never forgotten.”
Just then, something Gus told the crowd earlier this day becomes clear: “We don’t suffer. It’s those who care about us who suffer.”
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