Black Balloon Day is raising drug awareness

The Inter-Mountain photo by Amanda Hayes Pictured above in center, Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley and Matt Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House, Inc., commemorate March 6 as Black Balloon Day in the City of Buckhannon to bring awareness to overdose deaths. Also pictured are members of the recovery community.

BUCKHANNON — Although frigid temperatures kept the ceremony indoors this year, the City of Buckhannon’s participation for the second year in Black Balloon Day did not deflate.

Black Balloon Day is an international day to bring awareness to overdose deaths began when Massachusetts resident Greg Tremblay died of an overdose five years ago and his family chose to fly a black balloon in remembrance.

Mayor David McCauley said, “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 whose who aid their recoveries. We need to continue our efforts to instill hope for those who battle addiction, and be mindful of our society’s offering second, third, fourth and fifth chances to those battling this dreadful disease.”

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States with 70,200 lethal drug overdoses in 2017 alone, according to statistics McCauley cited.

“Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic with 47,700-plus overdose deaths related to prescription opioids and illicit opioids (heroin and illicit fentanyl) during 2017,” McCauley said.

Matt Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House, Inc., a recovery organization, said the pendulum is shifting in illicit drug use again from opiates to methamphetamines.

“As we start to see drops in overdose deaths, I hope people don’t see that as the problem being solved,” he said.

“The problem is shifting and what we are going to see now is a continuation of the suffering and all the other stuff that goes along with addiction,” he said. “We are going to see more long-term chronic health problems as we shift back to amphetamines.”

Kerner said he saw an article that Cabell County is suddenly seeing an HIV outbreak with 28 cases of HIV in that community all attributed to IV drug use.

“The death is going to look different,” he said. “We are going to see more property crimes, more families — especially children – traumatized by addiction. I am hoping that as the pendulum swings, we don’t take our eye off the ball and think we have solved the problem. It still exists. It’s just changed forms.”

Kerner thanked the City of Buckhannon and McCauley for their support.

“I believe we are leaders in this state in a comprehensive community approach to solving this problem,” he said.

The City of Buckhannon has partnered with Opportunity House on a grant application along with Community Care of West Virginia, Buckhannon Medical Center, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and some others to plan a comprehensive community-wide approach to the addiction problem.

“I am hoping once we get that done, we will be able to move into full implementation,” he said.

To learn more about Black Balloon Day, visit www.overdose-lifeline.org/black-balloon-day.html.


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