TORRINGTON — Tuesday, Aug. 31 was International Overdose Awareness Day.
For many years, opioid overdoses have increased in both the state and in the country.
According to national and state statistics, in 2020 93,331 people in the United States died of an opioid overdose.
Also last year, 1,374 in Connecticut died of an opioid overdose, including 69 residents in Litchfield County.
To remember those who lost their lives to an overdose, along with shedding light on the opioid crisis, the Litchfield County Opiate Taskforce held a candlelight vigil and resource fair at Coe Park on August 31.
The event included a candlelight vigil in memory of those who died, along with speakers, and a resource fair from local organizations who offer support for opioid addiction.
“We do this every year to remember those who we have lost due to fatal overdoses,” Lauren Pristo, Network Coordinator for the Task Force and event co-organizer said. “The thing that is frustrating about overdoses is we know how to prevent them. We know that NARCAN works and it helps to save lives. We need more programs to get NARCAN out to the communities, and we need more programs to get medicated assessment treatment for recovery.”
Pristo said that the main problem with addiction treatment is that it is far underfunded.
“In Litchfield County, we need more line-item funding,” Pristo said. “Right now, we are running everything on grants. We need to end the stigma of addiction and we need to end overdoses. That starts with policies that will help save lives. Our state legislators have been great partners in this and have all been supportive of our course. Thankfully with their partnership, we have made great strides.”
At the event, there was a memorial wall of family members and friends who lost their lives to an opioid overdose.
The pictures and handwritten words on the memorial wall told the stories of people of all ages and all walks of life who died.
One of those people on the memorial wall was Chris Florio, who died in 2019 and was the husband of Melissa Florio and the father of a now four-year-old daughter.
“It’s been very tough, but I am glad people are bringing more awareness to the issue now,” Melissa Florio said. “Hopefully, for people who are seeking help, it’s not much of a stigma anymore. That’s my hope. People should understand that it’s not just a person dealing with addiction, but the families as well.”
“We continue to lose more and more people to overdoses every year despite our best efforts on the part of many people,” Maria Coutant Skinner, Executive Director for the McCall Center for Behavioral Health, said. “The loss of each life results in many broken hearts. We will not stop until the number of overdoses is zero. But what we do know is that harm reduction access, along with access to medicated assisted treatment including NARCAN, saves lives.
Jessica Ouellet, Women’s Recovery Navigator for the McCall Center for Behavioral Health, said she is frustrated because it seems that the opioid crisis is being ignored.
“It just seems like it’s in people’s picture anymore,” Ouellet said. “There are a lot of overdoses happening and there is a lack of engagement and treatment. There is a way to defeat the stigma surrounding opioid addiction, and that is by doing what we are continuing to do: helping raise awareness. These people are not ‘junkies’ or ‘addicts’. They are individuals who have struggles and they use them because they are numbing something. But families and people all need to know that they are not alone in this fight.”
Towards the end of the vigil, addiction survivors, along with families of people who died due to overdoses, all told their stories to the audience.
The vigil ended with a reading of a list of people who died due to opioid overdoses.
It took over 20 minutes for the full list to be read.
For more information about the Litchfield County Opioid Task Force go to https://www.facebook.com/LCOTF
Substance Use and Addiction Resources:
Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR): https://ccar.us
LiveLoud (Life with Opioid Use Disorder): https://liveloud.org
CT Alcoholics Anonymous: 1-866-783-7712 or https://ct-aa.org
CT Alanon and Ala-teen: 1-888-825-2666 https://www.ctalanon.org
CT Narcotics Anonymous: 1-800-627-3543 or https://ctna.org
Photos by Shaw Israel Izikson