Community event raises overdose awareness ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day
TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - Dozens of community members turned out Sunday afternoon as the Enlightening Hope Project hosted their third overdose awareness event ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31.
The theme of this year’s event was “Recognizing those who go unseen.” The event was a chance for people affected by overdose to share their story and for the community to learn about resources available to them.
Olivia Perez was one of many in attendance who had been personally affected by an overdose. She lost her brother to a meth overdose when he was just 25 years old. She said when he was discharged from the military, he started using the drug as a coping mechanism.
“As a family member, you want to help the person, right? But it’s a very hard to kind of swallow the pill that you can’t help somebody until they’re ready to get help,” said Perez.
She said the memory of her brother pushed her to want to help others struggling with addiction.
“I think a lot of people that are using substances feel like nobody wants them anymore. Here, they’re are very wanted. We want to help. So that’s what my purpose is, to make them feel comfortable here,” said Perez.
Naomi Vega started the Enlightening Hope Project after losing her son to an overdose in 2020. The project helps families connect with resources, helps individuals navigate the behavioral health system, and helps them understand someone is there for them.
“We are here to recognize families that have lost loved ones due to an overdose, provide a venue to mourn their loved one with dignity. Speak about them, talk about them, raise awareness for other people that are struggling with addiction and connect them with resources here,” said Vega.
Vega added that this is the first year they brought in multiple law enforcement agencies to speak. Some in attendance included the Tucson Police Department, Whetstone Fire Department, and the DEA. Her goal was to show people and the agencies that what they do can’t be achieved without the help of these agencies.
“I wanted them to understand that we’re with them because we can’t do this by ourselves. Community agencies are very resourceful and they help people, but law enforcement have the data and I don’t want people to see law enforcement as something negative,” said Vega.
This event was also an opportunity to raise awareness for people currently struggling with addiction. Chris Chavez used to be one of those people. While he has been clean for eight years, he still knows people who are struggling.
“I want to get that message out that they don’t have to overdose, that recovery is possible. There are services and things available to them,” said Chavez.
Many hope that by continuing to raise awareness they can change the stigma associated with addiction and overdose in the future.
“Stigma is one of the things that keeps people from seeking treatment, from admitting they need help, from really putting themselves out there and being vulnerable, because being vulnerable is hard in the first place,” said Chavez.
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