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2016 International Overdose Awareness Day

Activists hold memorial in honor of 2016 International Overdose Awareness Day,
demand funding for the Opioid Safety “NET”

Seattle, WASHINGTON – Voices of Community Activists and Leaders – Washington (VOCAL-WA), along with family and friends of overdose victims, harm reduction specialists and treatment providers will participate in International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, 2016. The event will be commemorated with a vigil to honor overdose victims. At the event, to be held at Westlake Park from 6:00 – 8:00pm, 320 white helium balloons, each attached to a pair of shoes, will be on display to symbolize those who have been lost.

In Washington State, overdoses have now surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death. There were 320 drug-caused deaths In King County in 2015.

“Overdose from heroin and other drugs is preventable. Knowing the signs of potential overdose and having naloxone, the medication to reverse an overdose, could truly turn a person into a modern day super hero life saver,” says Brad Finegood, Assistant Division Director, King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, Seattle/King County Public Health Department. “And thanks to the Good Samaritan law, people witnessing an overdose can call for help without the fear of prosecution. Personally, I can say if the signs of overdose were more well known, my sibling would be alive today. Save a life. Overdose is preventable. People do recover.”

International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event to raise awareness of overdose, reduce the stigma of drug-related death, and remember those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Seattle is one of more than a hundred cities around the world participating in the international day of action to honor victims of overdose fatalities, educate the public about the growing global overdose crisis and highlight life-saving solutions.

“Scientific research has revealed that addiction is a disease. Yet, the stigma continues. Shame and fear keep many parents hiding in the shadows whose children suffer from a substance use disorder. They fear being judged as unfit parents while their kids face the labels of ‘junkies,’ ‘losers,’ or ‘throw away people’,” says Penny LeGate, founder of The Marah Project. “I urge anyone struggling with addiction to step forward so you can get support. We are long overdue in educating ourselves about the facts of how addiction works. No more judging. No more incarceration. No more barriers to recovery. This epidemic belongs to all of us. No one is immune. I hope the Overdose Awareness Vigil will be attended by many who have NOT had direct experience with the heroin epidemic. That will help build broader understanding and compassion in our community so we can work together to solve this misunderstood and deadly epidemic.”

“There is an urgent need for public health policies that do not further punish and marginalize addiction. Real Change supports approaches to drug use that reduce harm and save lives,” says Tim Harris, Executive Director, Real Change.

“Harm reduction enables people to make healthier choices for their lives and it is imperative that we take seriously the need for such programs,” says Patricia Sully, coordinator of VOCAL-WA. “Syringe exchanges, naloxone distribution, and supervised consumption spaces can mean the difference between life and death for people who drugs. Harm reduction isn’t antithetical to prevention or treatment, but rather a part of the continuum. There are some people for whom prevention is no longer an option – they are living with active and chaotic substance use. Without harm reduction programs, many of those people will never make it to treatment or a healthier, more stable place.”

Advocates demand substantially more funding for a model called the Opioid Safety NET: Naloxone-Engagement-Treatment. The “NET” is woven with three components – naloxone to reverse the immediate fatal overdose trend, enough sterile drug use equipment and staffing so syringe exchange programs can engage people who use drugs to prevent HIV and hepatitis C and help them access health care and support services, and treatment to help people exit drug use altogether.

Alison Eisenger, Director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, states, “The crisis of homelessness and the crisis of addiction are not the same, but huge numbers of people struggle with both every day and night. Those people are greatly at risk of suffering a fatal overdose, and it simply doesn’t have to be that way. No one should be left to die alone in an alley, bathroom, or park. We have very clear ways to save people’s lives, save public dollars, and make our communities safer and healthier for everyone. We know these strategies work: giving many more people naloxone and the training to use it; funding and staffing innovative programs like safe consumption spaces; and dramatically expanding treatment and housing for people who have behavioral disorders or additions across King County.”

“After my daughter died from a heroin overdose in June 2015, at the age of 19, I had two choices to make.” says Michael Roberts of Amber’s H.O.P.E. “Either I join her or share her story so other parents don’t have to go thru this unimaginable pain you didn’t think was possible. Drug addiction should no longer be a taboo subject. It’s real life. Real kids are dying from addiction everyday. There is no stereotype for a drug addict—none. I had to spread the ashes of my only child, who went school, who was gainfully employed, who had a smile that would light up Century Link field…and the worse part of this, it was preventable. My hope is that parents, communities, anyone, should not be afraid to talk about drug addiction. Talk to your kids. Get rid of the negative stigma addiction seems to have. It’s a disease and needs to be treated as such. I cry every day. I ask ‘why her?’ every day. And I share her story every day. And if it saves one life, I’m willing to relive her death everyday.”

2016 International Overdose Awareness Day
Westlake Park, 6:00 – 8:00pm
Event Schedule:

6:00: Speakers

Welcome and Introduction, Kris Nyrop, Public Defender Association
Brad Finegood, Assistant Division Director, King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, Seattle/King County           Public Health Department
Penny LeGate, The Marah Project
Caleb Banta-Green, University of WA, Alcohol & Drug Abuse Institute
Ashley Hempelmann, VOCAL-WA Member
Killian Noe, Recovery Cafe
Michael Roberts, Amber’s H.O.P.E.

6:45: Moment of Silence
6:50: Speak-out and Tributes
7:30 – 8:00: Information tables and photo display

Contact: Patricia Sully, (206) 963-5529, patricia.sully@defender.org