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Identity & Community

'We're Losing A Generation.' Families Gather To Remember Loved Ones On Overdose Awareness Day

Bells tolled 737 times for more than an hour downtown this morning, in memory of those who died from a drug overdose last year.

 Family and friends impacted by the region’s epidemic gathered to display pictures of their loved ones and participate in a prayer ceremony.

 

Jeanna Fisher, who lost her daughter, Marley, last year, helped organize the event through her support group, Pittsburgh Won’t Forget U. She said part of the healing for those affected by overdose deaths is talking openly about addiction.

“We don’t hide in the closet anymore. We say it out loud that our child died from an overdose,” Fisher said. “It’s part of our grief--to congregate and be able to talk to other people who understand what we lived through.”

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Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
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Three women comfort each other at a gathering of family and friends of drug overdose victims. Several in attendance who had lost loved ones say being together was incredibly healing.

Southwestern Pennsylvania has been hit particularly hard by the opioid epidemic. In 2017, there were 1,316, according to the website OverdoseFreePa (this data does not include Washington and Greene counties).

For more than an hour, people wandered through the Trinity Cathedral’s burial area, where photographs of those who died were hanging on twine. Fisher said it’s important for people to walk through the display because it puts a face to statistics.

“I’m seeing people walk through here that didn’t know a good 99.9 percent of these people,” she said. “But they’re crying just looking at these photos and they’re identifying with them.”

Shaler resident Angela Eidenmiller lost her niece, Holly, last August. She said more people need to know how to help those who are addicted because it could happen to anyone.

“The biggest mistake is: don’t ever think that your family can’t be affected,” Eidenmiller said. "We're losing a generation."

 

She was walking around the display, teaching people how to use a mobile phone app that helps bystanders recognize and start to treat someone who might be overdosing.

“Hopefully someone can be saved through education,” Eidenmiller said.

Last year, the Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a national crisis, but many activists still say more work needs to be done to help those struggling with addiction. Faith leaders in attendance expressed the need for rehab and treatment to be more affordable and less stigmatized.

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Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
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90.5 WESA
Angela Eidenmiller of Shaler scrolls through a mobile app that walks through signs that someone might be overdosing on drugs. She says if more people are aware of what an overdose presents as and can administer the proper overdose reversal drug, Naloxone, then more people can be saved.

Sue Carney lost her son, Sean, last December to a fentanyl overdose. She said when she comes to gatherings like the one downtown, she stresses to other families the importance of not feeling ashamed.

“He was a wonderful person and had a horrible disease,” Carney said. “These were loving family members and good people that just got stuck in a bad situation. [Families] shouldn’t be ashamed.”

Following the ceremony emergency medical personnel held a training session on how to administer naloxone, the opioid overdose reversal drug.