Opioid Overdose VigilSeptember 4, 2012 10:02 AM
As part of the Brockton Mayor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Coalition, BAMSI’s COPE Center has collaborated with other organizations in Brockton for the past several years to hold a candlelight vigil. The vigil is held each year on the first Friday of August and provides an outlet for families and friends to honor and remember those lost to opioid overdose. The vigil tradition on the first Friday of August was started by Healthy Streets outreach program in Lynn at what is now Northeast Behavioral Health. The goal for the evening in Brockton and Lynn is to put aside outreach efforts, politics, programming, and media and to dedicate a time and space for loved ones to remember those who have been lost to overdose. It is also an important event for staff of both programs to reflect on the many persons served who have passed away over the years of working with HIV prevention street outreach.
Reflecting on this year’s event, there were more than 50 people who attended in memory of someone who had passed away from opioid overdose. The vigil was held at the new recovery high school, Independence Academy, on August 3, 2012. It was a muggy 90 degrees even at the 7 pm start of the event. BAMSI’s COPE Center was able to provide bottled water to help cool people down. The COPE Center also enrolled people in Narcan and had a resource table. The Coalition had a resource table, as did Learn To Cope, LHI Recovery Center, and Adcare Hospital.
Speakers included Hillary Dubois, Coordinator of the Brockton Mayor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Coalition; Mayor Linda Balzotti; Heather Kennedy, Program Director of BAMSI’s COPE Center; Sarah, who lost her mother and brother; Patrick and Jeremy, who are in long-term recovery; and Debbie, who lost her son in July 2012.
Below are the words from Heather Kennedy at the vigil:
For the last seven years, to the day actually, I have had the privilege of running BAMSI’s COPE Center. The COPE Center has quietly been on Pleasant Street since 1996. Chances are, unless you need our services, you probably don’t even know what it is we’re funded to do. We’re funded by the Department of Public Health Office of HIV/AIDS to do HIV testing and risk reduction planning. We operate under the principles of Harm Reduction, meaning we’re meeting people where they’re at and helping them to identify specific ways they can reduce their risks for things like HIV, Hepatitis or opioid overdose. Sometimes this means we’re literally in the woods, a sober house or on campus at High Point. Most of the time, we’re at the drop in center. Meeting people where they’re at always means that whatever someone’s situation, we’re going to welcome them, educate them and empower them to change at their pace.
One of the things I love about my job is that I work in a field where stigma is everywhere and part of my job is to help people find their voice and have those conversations about HIV or Overdose. The nasal Narcan pilot was a seamless fit into our program because in the HIV field we already have those very real, potentially lifesaving conversations with people about their risky, often intimate and illegal behaviors. Reaching people in often one of the most challenging points in their life, one of the most important things my staff and I do is help to rebuild the sense of dignity and self-worth that is so easily diminished during active drug use.
We have been remarkably lucky in Brockton to have had such a strong coalition of people working together to fight opioid overdose. I remember the first time I heard Joanne Peterson speak. I met up with Eliza Wheeler who was the program director for the Cambridge Needle Exchange at the time and we snuck in the back of this community meeting to listen to this mom who was demanding action. Around the same time, this same mom brought community providers together to start conversations about the epidemic ripping through the state. These community provider meetings were the very beginning of what turned into the Brockton Mayor’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Coalition. Today the list of providers around the table is extensive and growing. The cooperation we have consistently gotten from the city of Brockton, our social service providers, both hospitals, American Medical Response, the fire department and the police department is truly almost unmatched around the state.
The Narcan pilot project that began in Brockton on February 25, 2009 has allowed my program to literally put lifesaving tools into the hands of roughly 3,000 people who are often the first ones on the scene of an overdose: other people who are using. To date, approximately 150 overdose reversals have been reported back to the BAMSI COPE Center. No matter what the circumstances, there isn’t much more empowering than saving someone’s life.