By James Kukstis
Original Source: Marshfield.wickedlocal.com
From sunrise to sunset on International Overdose Awareness Day, residents of the South Shore gathered to remember those who have been lost to drug overdoses and share resources to help make sure no others suffer the same fate.
More than 75 people gathered before sunrise at Scituate Lighthouse for a vigil led by Pamela Barz, minister of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Estelle Margarones, minister of the First Trinitarian Congregational Church, and Annmarie Galvin, founder of Scituate FACTS.
“It’s a sad reason to get together, but I think it was beautiful,” Galvin said. “The planners do a really good job of making it a special remembrance, not just about the tragedy, but about the people. I’m proud of that.”
Upon arrival to the Scituate vigil, attendees were offered stones to decorate with the name of a lost loved one or a message of hope. At the end of the service, they were invited to place the stones on the jetty as a remembrance.
“I love having this in the morning, because you can feel it the whole day,” Galvin said. “You bring it with you, it lifts you up a little bit.”
Marshfield’s candlelight vigil, held in the late afternoon, drew more than 150 to the Town Green, where members of the Marshfield High School Key Club had installed 2,069 purple flags, one for each of the individuals in Massachusetts lost to an overdose since the town’s 2016 vigil.
Survivors and parents who lost children told their stories to the crowd, advocating for greater education and understanding of the problem.
Rich Barnes, of Richful Thinking, spoke of his 28 years living with addiction, directing his speech mostly to the high school students in the crowd.
“Addiction and alcoholism are like a soft hand that will stroke your arm and tell you that you’re OK,” he said. “Don’t worry about your grades falling, don’t worry about your mom and dad yelling at you, telling you what to do: That’s addiction speaking very loudly. After a while, what happens is that soft hand becomes claws, and then you’re stuck.”
Now sober for 11 years, Barnes uses his experience as a recovering addict to speak to schools and groups about addiction and to offer himself a resource to anyone who reaches out to him for help.
“I will not hide myself in recovery, because I want people that are actively out there, who desperately need help, to call me because I will relate to them,” Barnes said. “We all have voices, we need to use them. We can’t live with a stigma anymore about addiction. We can’t be embarrassed about addiction, be shameful, guiltful, have remorse. Being shameful and guilty is going to kill people.”
Stephanie Greene started No First Time, a program designed to educate young people on the risks of experimenting with drugs, after she lost her son Evan to an opiate overdose. She spoke about the challenges faced by not only the addict, but the addict’s family.
“It’s an everyday, all day, painful battle for everybody,” she said. “It’s not just the disease for the person, it affects the whole family. Everybody is in disarray when you have an addict in the house.”
By educating students at a young age on the dangers of risky behavior, she hopes less parents will find themselves in the situation she went through.
Both Greene and Barnes touched on the argument over whether addiction is a disease.
“I don’t care what people think,” Greene said. “I don’t care if you think it’s a disease or a choice, because it doesn’t matter. People are dying and we need to help each other do something about it. Let’s educate our children and make sure there is no first time.”
Wayne Lopes, of Marshfield, lost his son Manny seven months ago. When addressing the crowd Thursday night, it was the first time he’d used the words “opiates” or “heroin” in the same sentence with his son’s name.
“There’s a stigma that’s attached to that, there’s a shame that’s attached to that,” Lopes said. “I’m a very proud, private person, and I was very guarded with his memory. We’ve got to lift that veil of shame that’s surrounding it.”
He said that while he didn’t initially plan on speaking, being public with what his son went through is worth it if it helps any other families. When his son was alive, Lopes said he struggled to understand the depression Manny lived with, that lead him to drugs.
“He told me, ‘when I do drugs, it’s not to get high, it’s so I don’t feel what I’m feeling’,” Lopes said.
Spreading awareness and helping people understand the reality of the situation, he said, will serve to change public opinions.
“When we start losing people like this, humanity loses,” Lopes said. “We all have to be more compassionate, to stop being judgmental. If we can’t be about compassion and make a difference for each other, our world doesn’t work.”
State Rep. Jim Cantwell, D-Marshfield, who attended both ceremonies, agreed.
Plymouth County District Attorney Tim Cruz, who also attended both vigils, said it is important to continue to teach overdose prevention and youth drug prevention.
“We need to make sure that we are battling addiction and are in our schools talking to our students about substance issues,” Cruz said. “Addiction is very scary and it is very powerful. We are making sure that we are coming forward and as a community are learning more. Vigils like these create awareness, and awareness creates change.”
Cruz and Cantwell each pointed to changes made in the state’s laws to confront the epidemic, like the Good Samaritan Law, which allows individuals to get help for friends without worrying about being arrested themselves and limitations on how much of a medication doctors can prescribe.
“The message of hope is important,” Cantwell said. “We’ve heard them. My purpose for tonight is a voice of hope, that these kids here got to learn so much and that there is hope.”
Both services also included presence from the towns’ police and fire departments, who find themselves frequently on the front lines of fighting the epidemic.
The waves crashing against the jetty in Scituate and the busy roads surrounding Marshfield’s Town Green were juxtaposed by the calm and powerful assembled crowds: proof positive that even amidst the chaos and uncertainty of addiction, strength is possible when gathering together.
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