Long Island marks International Overdose Awareness Day with remembrances, renewed push for more resources
As Tuesday marked International Overdose Awareness Day, there was a renewed push for more funding for treatment, prevention and recovery programs.
Here on Long Island there were numerous events throughout the day and into Tuesday evening to mark the somber occasion.
At the Thrive Center in Hauppauge, about 400 names were read aloud of the people who died of overdoses. Family members and loved ones were in attendance holding a candle as the names were read.
Bill Reitzig, of Miller Place, spoke about his son Billy, who died in 2016 after trying heroin.
"My wife said, 'He didn't make it.' You don't know, you don't understand," Reitzig recalled. "When I saw him, when he laid to rest, my knees buckled. It's something that you never forget."
"Today is a day of memorial, yes, because we've all lost loved ones, but it's a call to action. We're losing this fight," said Steve Chassman, of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Drug treatment experts also talked about statistics.
In 2020, 93,000 people died nationwide of opioid overdoses -- a 30% increase from 2019. That's more people than would fit inside MetLife Stadium.
Here on Long Island, 390 people died last year. That's a 34% increase in overdose deaths in Nassau County, and a 12% increase in Suffolk County from July of last year to July of this year.
"Everything regarding mental health has been exasperated because of COVID-19, so our job today is to really incorporate partnerships and move forward work on reducing that fatality and non-fatal overdose rate moving forward," Chassman said.
"What happens when we see the overdose numbers climb, we work like crazy. We do the prevention work, we do the treatment work, we do the recovery support, we do harm reduction, naloxone training and everything else like that," said Jeff Reynolds, of Family and Children's Association.
"If this would have started 20 years ago, even longer, maybe my son and others would have been saved," Reitzig said.
International Overdose Awareness Day is leading into September, which is National Recovery Month. In Huntington, purple flags will fly throughout the town, and local businesses will illuminate with purple light.
Drug treatment experts also say they will push lawmakers in Albany for more funding and demand insurance companies once again to cover the cost of longer-term recovery programs.