Annual Greenfield vigil looks to raise overdose awareness, reduce stigma

Participants walk from the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew to the Greenfield Common on Aug. 31, 2022 to recognize International Overdose Awareness Day.

Participants walk from the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew to the Greenfield Common on Aug. 31, 2022 to recognize International Overdose Awareness Day. STAFF FILE PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 08-29-2023 6:51 PM

GREENFIELD — In recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, two local organizations will host a vigil Thursday evening in hopes of reducing the stigma related to substance use and overdose, while also remembering those who have been lost or who are affected by it.

The vigil, which will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on the Greenfield Common, is a joint effort by The RECOVER Project and Tapestry. Similar events are being held throughout western Massachusetts on the same day, Aug. 31, to remember those who have died by overdose and to recognize the pain of families, friends and communities impacted by the public health crisis.

“All are welcome,” said Liz Whynott, director of harm reduction at Tapestry. “We just want to bring the community together to recognize this day.”

As part of the vigil, there will be speakers with lived experience, she said. There will also be an “open mic,” allowing anyone to share their story with the community. The event will conclude with a candlelight walk at 7:30 p.m. from the common to the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Federal Street, located across the street from The RECOVER Project.

“We want to really center it on people who have lost someone to overdose or experienced overdoses in their lifetime,” Whynott said.

In 2022, there were 2,357 confirmed and estimated opioid deaths, according to the state Department of Public Health. While Hampshire and Franklin counties saw rates of fatal overdoses decrease — by 15.9% and 25%, respectively — Hampden County saw an increase of 6.6%.

Tapestry, which serves western Massachusetts residents from offices in Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, Northampton, Greenfield, North Adams and Pittsfield, provides overdose prevention education and access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone (commonly known by the brand name Narcan). In the past year, Tapestry distributed more than 8,700 naloxone kits to people who are at high risk of witnessing an overdose.

“It’s something that continues to affect a lot of people,” Whynott said. “Having this event yearly is a really important way to bring attention to overdoses and the effect it has on everyone, and also provide a public place to help reduce the stigma.”

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According to a statement from the governor’s office, more than 1 million Americans have lost their lives to overdose since 1999. Over the past decade, Massachusetts has lost 22,000 people to overdoses, including 2,357 residents in 2022 alone.

Gov. Maura Healey has sent a letter to President Joe Biden requesting that he lower flags to half-mast on Aug. 31 in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day. This action would allow Massachusetts to lower its flags as well.

“The overdose crisis has taken the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and Massachusetts residents,” Healey said in a statement released Tuesday. “Lowering the flags on International Overdose Awareness Day will help us to honor their memories, call attention to the overdose crisis that continues to ravage our communities, and break down the stigma that prevents too many people from seeking lifesaving treatment. We are grateful to the Biden administration for their important work to address substance use disorder and hope that they will consider taking this step to raise awareness.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.