BUCKHANNON – The City of Buckhannon this week paid tribute to people whose lives have been lost to addictions of all kinds.
Mayor David McCauley, Opportunity House Executive Director Matt Kerner and other Opportunity House employees and residents gathered at city hall Wednesday for commemoration of the fifth annual Black Balloon Day, held every March 6. This year marks the second time the city has participated in the ceremony.
Typically, black balloons are tied to the home of a family or person affected by addiction or they’re released in memory of people whose deaths were addiction-related; however, due to Wednesday’s frigid temperatures, no actual balloons were released.
In addition to remembering the lives of those who have passed away, Black Balloon Day takes place to encourage people currently battling addiction to maintain hope they can overcome the illness.
“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. “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.”
An international and national event, Black Balloon Day came to be because of a family’s tragic loss in 2015. Diane and Lauren Hurley began Black Balloon Day in remembrance of Greg Tremblay. Tremblay, a father of four, is the son-in-law of Diane and brother-in-law of Lauren and died of an overdose when he was 38 years old on March 6, 2015.
According to data McCauley cited, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., with over 70,000 deadly drug overdoses in 2017 alone. In 2017, a large percentage of those deaths were linked to heroin, fentanyl or prescription opioids.
The Opportunity House is a nonprofit organization that provides supportive housing and holistic recovery services to people struggling to overcome their addictions. Kerner, the executive director, said he was grateful for city officials’ support of recovery programs like the Opportunity House.
“It’s phenomenal to live and work in a community that mourns our losses and celebrates our successes with us,” Kerner said. “I often say that recovery happens more often in community than in isolation. That applies as much to our larger external community as it does to our recovery community.
“Today, as we remember the friends we have lost to overdose, we also celebrate the knowledge that addiction doesn’t have to end in jails, institutions or death. Recovery is possible.”
Kerner also said methamphetamine addiction is a growing problem, and that just a recent decrease in overdose deaths due to opioids doesn’t mean the addiction crisis is solved.
“The pendulum has swung from opioids back to meth, and I hope people don’t see a drop in overdose deaths and think the problem is solved because it’s just changing form,” Kerner said. “As meth use increases, we will see an increase in the transmission of blood-borne disease, prolonged suffering of families, increasing levels of property crimes and other things that come with the changing nature of the drugs used.”
Anyone struggling with addiction or mental health issues can find someone to talk to and a host of resources on the state of West Virginia’s Help4WV website, www.help4wv.com. A crisis response line is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; access help by calling 1-844-HELP4WV, texting 844-435-7498 or chatting online with a support specialist.
If you think you or someone you know may have overdosed, please seek immediate medical help by dialing 9-1-1.