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Great Barrington Vigil Planned For International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day Prevention and Remembrance
International Overdose Awareness Day

On Tuesday, a group in Great Barrington, Massachusetts is recognizing International Overdose Awareness Day with a vigil at town hall. Gary Pratt is project manager of Rural Recovery Resources, a grant-funded program that works to prevent deaths from substance use and offer services to those impacted by addiction in Southern Berkshire County. The founder of Smash The Stigma 413 – another county group that addresses substance use disorders – Pratt is himself in long-term recovery. He spoke with WAMC about the meaning of the day and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the rate of overdose deaths in Berkshire County.

PRATT: Unfortunately, we're kind of at a low point because we're still in the middle of a pandemic. And though things have gotten a little better on that front, substance use disorder has risen drastically. And we've had a significant rise in overdose deaths in Berkshire County. It was a 44% increase from 2019 to 2020. So there's lots of families that are grieving right now the loss of their loved ones, their friends, their families, their coworkers. We're making tremendous progress in Berkshire County when it comes to the treatment of substance use disorder and the reduction of stigma, but we've experienced a tremendous amount of loss over the past year and a half- Actually, the past decade really with the opioid crisis in general. It's a somber thing. It's a really somber thing. And I'm grateful that we have an opportunity to come together with the relaxation of COVID regulations and being able to gather in Great Barrington to remember people and to just raise awareness that overdose can happen to anyone. It’s just- I’m grateful to be able to do that.

WAMC: For folks who are friends or family members of those who are struggling with misuse, what is the message to them when they when they see someone they love and care about struggling? How can they be the most supportive to someone in that position?

I think the way that to be most supportive is to remember to love the person. It's really easy to fall back into this stigmatizing mindset and language of ‘this is an addict, this is an alcoholic,’ and to really lose the humanity of the person that you're looking at and trying to help. I would say, maintain that connection as much as you possibly can, as safely as you possibly can and to let the person know who's struggling that they're not alone and that they don't have to go through this alone and that if they need help, there are resources to be able to get them the help that they need- Including our agency, Rural Recovery.

As far as broader efforts to confront this issue, could the state be doing more to support folks in this position, or folks doing work like Rural Recovery around this issue?

I actually- I want to give the state of some proper credit. They're doing a lot. They started the State Without Stigma campaign a few years ago, and they've really tried to bolster treatment options. But I think for Berkshire County that hasn't necessarily translated. We have one county here in Berkshire County- And that's the way that the state kind of treats it, like it's one county. But there's three separate parts of Berkshire County: North, Central and South County. For a long time, the treatment options have been in Pittsfield, and luckily, there are starting to be peer support recovery centers coming online, like the one that we're opening in Great Barrington. There's also the Beacon Recovery Center in North Adams and Living In Recovery in Pittsfield. So it's becoming more of an equitable thing. To be able to do this down here in South County where traditionally there really hasn't been a whole lot of options for people in recovery or, still, people that are in active addiction, it's a tremendous thing to be able to do that. And I have to credit HRSA with that, though. For us down here in South County, we got a grant from the federal government. We didn't get a grant from the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services or Massachusetts. Hopefully we can get some kind of funding from them in the future to be able to continue our mission, but I have to fully credit the Health Resources and Services Administration for the grant that we got to be able to open the recovery center in Great Barrington.

Now, these remembrance vigils, what are they like? I imagine it's a very emotional experience.

Yeah, it is an emotional experience. I've participated in a couple of them. A live one two years ago, pre-pandemic. And then last August, we did one on Zoom, just to bring people together. So you know, it's usually some family members get up and share their experience. We’ll have opportunities to share experience and just to come together, and people can really connect with people and share their experiences and to share their grief, and so, like I said, just to maintain that connection, to be able to realize that you're not the only person that's going through this.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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