Black balloons help bring awareness to overdose deaths

BUCKHANNON  A day born out of tragedy is now being used to bring awareness to overdose deaths around the world.

The City of Buckhannon participated in its first Black Balloon Day Tuesday, a national and international event which began with Diane and Lauren Hurley remembering Greg Tremblay, of Massachusetts. Tremblay, a father of four and the son-in-law of Diane and brother-in-law of Lauren died of an overdose at 38 years old on March 6, 2015.

“Today, we remember all of the members of our community who we have lost to drug addiction while continuing to express our hopes for those who carry on their battle every day, while offering support to those who aid their recoveries,” Mayor David McCauley said during a brief ceremony held on the steps of Buckhannon City Hall.

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States with 63,600 legal drug overdoses in 2016 alone, according to statistics McCauley shared.

“Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 42,000-plus overdose deaths related to prescription opioids and illicit opioids (heroin and illicit fentanyl).  I encourage all citizens to check out the website, We truly are all in this together.”

Matt Kerner, director of the Opportunity House, attended the observance with some of the participants in Opportunity House programs.

“Every time we do something like this, the big thing is I hope people remember that the people who die from overdoses are human beings. That they quit defining people by the disease they have and they remember it could be somebody they know. It could be their own kid. It could be anybody.                   This is the fourth annual Black Balloon day and I’m happy to see the city taking part in it.”

In October, the health department announced it was beginning a harm reduction program that would include Narcan/Naloxone trainings and a needle exchange program.

Sue McKisic, director of the Upshur-Buckhannon Health Department, said Tuesday, “The UBHB is currently in the process of making available a harm reduction program for the citizens of Upshur County. With the opioid and addiction crisis, we have held some Naloxone/Narcan trainings to hopefully reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. We hope to continue these trainings if funding remains available. The opportunity of contracting  Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV/Aids is also greatly increased due to sharing needles and unprotected sex. As Mayor McCauley stated,  We truly are all in this together. We need to be informed, educated and join in to find a solution.”

Kerner said, “It may seem counter intuitive to a lot of people but I keep hearing a lot of people complain about finding needles all over the place where people use them and throw them away.”

Danny Jones, the mayor of Charleston wants to make possession of a needle a misdemeanor again and that’s going to make the problem worse so the needles are just thrown away wherever they are, according to Kerner.

“Sharing needles contributes to the spread of HIV and Hepatitis B and C If we have the needle exchange program, those people have to hold on to the needles and take them back to get a new one. It takes care of the disposal problem. We won’t have them showing up in places, playgrounds and parks and places like that.

“We need to look at do we want to solve the problem or do we want to punish people?” Kerner said. “Things like needle exchanges and safe injection sites do a lot more to solve the problem than what we’re doing now.”

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