Black Balloon Day events remember overdose victims

Submitted photo courtesy of Callie Cronin Sams Matt Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House, speaks during a Black Balloon Day event Tuesday afternoon in Buckhannon.

BUCKHANNON — An event Tuesday afternoon in Buckhannon took place as part of a worldwide effort to remember those who have passed away from an overdose and raise awareness of drug addiction.

Officials from the City of Buckhannon, Opportunity House Inc. and the Upshur County Health Department participated in the Black Balloon Day event in Buckhannon. The movement is designed to remember overdose victims, as well as acknowledge their family and friends or those who are affected by the drug epidemic.

“As with many things with the opioid epidemic, Black Balloon Day began with a family’s loss,” said Mayor David McCauley during his opening remarks.

Diane and Lauren Hurley of Peabody, Massachusetts, began Black Balloon Day in remembrance of Greg Tremblay, who died of an overdose when he was 38 years old on March 6, 2015. Tremblay, a father of four, was Diane Hurley’s son-in-law, and Lauren Hurley’s brother-in-law.

Since then, Black Balloon Day has been recognized as a national and international event, bringing awareness to overdose deaths.

The Inter-Mountain photo by Tim MacVean Elkins Mayor Van T. Broughton, left, and community member Sharell Harmon attach black balloons to the handrail outside of Elkins City Hall Tuesday in honor of ‘Black Balloon Day’ to remember friends and loved ones who lost their lives to addiction. Harmon said the day was important to her because she lost her grandmother to addiction 22 years ago.

As West Virginia continues to battle the opioid epidemic, more and more families are suffering from drug overdoses each day. With 63,600 lethal drug overdoses in 2016 alone, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. The opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with more than 42,000 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids and illicit opioids — heroin and illicit fentany, according to statistics shared at the event.

“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,” McCauley said.

Matt Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House, said Tuesday’s event is a reminder “that these folks who we have lost to overdose are human beings who had families who loved them.”

He continued, “They left behind parents, spouses, and children and others who loved them and who they loved.”

Kerner said many people have a mental image of what an addicted person looks like, noting “more often than not, we use that preconceived notion to dehumanize, marginalize and demean them.”

By participating in events like Black Balloon Day, Kerner said people come to understand how big an issue overdoses are and “that addiction doesn’t discriminate.”

“Anyone is eligible to become addicted, and that realization can help break the stigma that surrounds addiction — and that change in public perception will lead to changes in public policies regarding how we treat addiction,” he said.