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City marks International Overdose Awareness Day with Candlelight Vigil

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By Neil Zolot


On the eve of Recovery Awareness Month, Revere marked International Overdose Awareness Day with a candlelight memorial vigil at Remembrance Park, Thursday, August 31. Hundreds of names of people who had succumbed to substance abuse were read in the presence of over 100 people in the park at the corner of Broadsound and Leverett Avenues adjacent to Winthrop Parkway. “We gather not to cast blame, but to offer support to those suffering this awful tragedy,” Substance Use Disorder and Homelessness Initiative (SUDHI) Program Manager CarrieAnn Salemme said. “Addiction knows no boundaries. It affects people from all walks of life. Each life lost is not just a statistic, but a beloved family member.

“We have to change the way we look at this and in the way we treat people who use drugs. We need to prioritize compassion and remove stigmatization. That keeps people isolated. When you label people, they use alone and are dying because there’s no one there to help them. If we show them some kindness, they’ll eventually want to quit.”
She also drew a distinction between attitudes shown toward alcohol and drug abuse. “Alcohol is deadlier but it’s not stigmatized,” she feels. “It’s a social norm.”

Acting Mayor Patrick Keefe called substance abuse “perhaps the greatest challenge our nation faces today. We pray for those who lost the battle and each recovery represents an inspiration to others. It could happen to any of us and it falls on all of us to offer care and comfort with faith and love for all our friends and neighbors.”

“It’s a very challenging and serious problem,” Police Chief David Callahan agrees. “It’s something we deal with every day and affects like us like every other community. Addiction is a disease that affects everyone. No family is untouched by it.”

Based on who attended the vigil many families are affected. Janessa Huckaby spoke about her late husband John. Debbie Hanscom attended in honor of her late son Joseph. Mike Vacchio read the poem Break the Stigma taken off overdoseawareness.com. He is in recovery and lost a brother to substance abuse. A friend, Derek Burns, is also in recovery and also lost a brother to addiction. “Never forget,” Burns said.

Revere and Winthrop State Representative Jeff Turco, whose district includes the park, also attended. He lost three siblings to substance abuse, two as recently as 2020. “This is personal for me, not just politics,” he said. “It’s a terrible disease and has to be dealt with at many levels.”

Revere/Winthrop/Chelsea/Boston State Senator Lydia Edwards also attended. “It’s important we remember all the people we lost,” she said.

She reported there have been increases in aid to hospitals and “deep conversations” about safe use sites.

Health Department social worker Nicole Palermo believes vigils can “bring the community together in ending stigmas about drug abuse.”

Unfortunately, after 17 years of effort and vigils, 14 on Revere Beach and the last 3 at Remembrance Park, trends in substance abuse are moving in the wrong direction. “It’s growing due to a poisoned drug supply,” SUDHI Harm Reduction Specialist Chris Alba admits.

Salemme reported a 30-40% increase in fatalities due to fentanyl in drugs. “Oxycodone and oxycontin were said to be non-addictive, but they were,” she said. “When the supply decreased, people in pain turned to street drugs.

Later COVID took a toll on mental health. “Mental health and substance abuse go hand in hand,” Palermo said. “People were looking for a way to cope and some turned to substance abuse.”

“Fentanyl is in every drug,” Callahan elaborated. “When the supply of oxycodone and oxycontin dried up, people turned to heroin. Now everything is fentanyl. It’s in compressed pills and, they’re made so well, some pharmacists have trouble telling the difference between a normal pill and a clandestine tablet.”

He feels “we’re not going to arrest our way out of this. There has to be education and outreach. It’ll take a long time. We collaborate with other police departments. The dealers and users have a network. That’s why there’s a law enforcement network.”

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