This past Saturday, hundreds came together on the steps of West Virginia's State Capitol with a pair of shoes in hand. The afternoon felt heavy like the thick Appalachian summer heat that surrounded us. One woman had a duffle bag full of shoes around her shoulder, each pair in remembrance of a loved one lost to the opioid epidemic.
Cici Brown , who lost her son Ryan to an opioid overdose in 2014, organized a tribute on the riverside steps of the State Capitol in Charleston, WV. Here, one could sense how vast the opioid epidemic stretched across this region. No one was free from knowing someone who had died from an overdose — from addicts in recovery to an 11-year-old daughter who lost both her parents. The epidemic impacted all of us in some way.
I grew up in Washington County, Pa., where just last year 25 people overdosed in two days, three of whom died. Gratefully, I have never known someone closely who has OD'ed. But so many classmates of mine struggled with addiction. A student from my high school passed away from an overdose when I was a freshman in college. I remember hearing about it while living in Ohio and the feeling the tension of the stigma of drug addiction. Many from my hometown saw heroin addiction as a problem deeply rooted in someone's character, and not as the disease that addiction truly is.
The tribute was a space to break the stigma of opioid addiction and to provide resources for recovery and life-saving medication. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department distributed free naloxone packages to patrons of the tribute as well as a training session for how to administer the drug during an overdose. While naloxone is available over-the-counter, prices are often too expensive for many to purchase it, ranging from $237 to $3000 for a package of two.
Robert White, who lost his son Seth White to a heroin overdose, says the state of West Virginia needs to change its legislation towards addicts. "We need to stop treating addicts like criminals," says White, "and we need to stop administering opioids for chronic pain."
West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day will be proclaimed on August 31, 2016 at the Governor's office at the State Capitol in Charleston.