SARATOGA SPRINGS AND SCHENECTADY — Death from a drug overdose is not a natural death. It’s whispered about. It generally isn’t reflected in an obituary, Maureen Provost said Thursday to a somber crowd at Congress Park in Saratoga Springs.
“This can make the loved one’s passing even more heart-wrenching because it may be difficult to be honest about their death,” said Provost, whose son, Dan, was 23 when he died of a heroin overdose in 2014. “We are here tonight to show our support for those lost as a result of addiction and to support one another following those losses. To show our families and community that their lives mattered. That despite their demons of addiction, they were loving and caring family members, goofy and funny friends, helping and compassionate neighbors and contributing co-workers.”
The Saratoga Springs woman spoke during a candlelight vigil on International Overdose Awareness Day hosted by Recovery Advocacy in Saratoga (RAIS). Amid a national opioid epidemic, communities around the world, including Schenectady, held similar events to honor the memory of addiction victims and to call for better access to substance-abuse education, treatment and recovery services.
When Brian Farr, president of RAIS, asked the crowd of more than 100 how many were in recovery, more than half of them raised their hands.
“We need to make treatment easier to obtain than illegal substances,” said Provost, who is a member of RAIS. “We need to reduce the stigma of addiction so that we’re not afraid to speak out and stand together.”
Earlier in the night, about 40 people gathered at the Saratoga Springs Public Library to be trained in administering Naloxone, a medication commonly known as Narcan used strictly to reverse overdoses. People at the vigil in Schenectady’s Central Park Rose Garden were also offered the course.
Meghan Riihimaki, the program coordinator for Saratoga County Addiction Services who led the training at the library, said it helps reduce the stigma that surrounds addiction. She brought with her 25 Narcan kits, which are provided to the county by the state Health Department. She handed all of them out.
“They might be able to save a life, and they're showing that they care as a community,” she said.
The Rev. Dave Haig, the priest at St. Luke’s on the Hill Episcopal Church in Halfmoon, said he attended the training so he can help his parishioners.
Haig is a recovering alcoholic, “so it’s very much part of my ministry, and I understand what addiction is all about,” he said.
“The reason I support this so much is that you can only enter into recovery if you’re alive,” he said. “If you’re dead, there’s no recovery.”