According to the Tennessee Department of Health, there were almost 670 non-fatal opioid overdoses in July. So far this year, there have been more than 4,500. The Overdose issue reaches all corners of the state, including rural communities like Clay County.
If you passed through Clay County on the days leading up to Wednesday, Aug. 31, you probably noticed many of the businesses around Celina decked out in purple. From porch lights shining bright to ribbons tied on the doors of businesses and even wrapped around the neck of Tipsy the Elephant, it was obvious something special was going on. CCADC partnered with businesses and churches. Signs proclaiming “International Overdose Awareness Day” were also proudly displayed outside several businesses and along the Old Clay County Courthouse yard on the Town Square. The signs, ribbons, and lights-part of a community partnership with the Clay County Anti-Drug Coalition were all displayed in preparation for a remembrance to be held on Wednesday.
As Aug. 31 marked International Overdose Awareness Day, they joined together, along with the community, from 7 to 10, to remember those lost to overdose, acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind, and renew a commitment to end overdose and its related harms. Friends and family of those lost were invited to celebrate the lives of their loved ones with “No Stigma No Shame,” as their black and purple t-shirts declared on their backs with “End Overdose” on the front.
Giant cardboard letters stretched across the courthouse lawn, also stating “End Overdose,” and a giant banner matching the community partner signs, adorned with white lights, pillar candles, and purple flowers, made the perfect backdrop for the event.
Even the bushes between the courthouse lawn and the roadside sported purple. While those flowers were a complete coincidence, those donated by a local florist for the event were not. They, along with all of the other purple memorabilia, were chosen specifically for their color, which is the awareness color for overdose.
This event, which allowed family and friends to come and go, light a candle, and leave a flower or a pair of shoes, was planned not only for remembrance but to initiate conversations that will create a society that is safer, better informed, and more compassionate and empowered toward preventing overdose.
Those attending helped each other with lighting their candles, cupping their hands around the flickering lights to prevent the wind from blowing them out. As the mood grew somber and daylight gave way to darkness, the luminaria bags lining the walkway to the historic courthouse began to glow purple, and silence filled the air.
Adults and children alike, from all walks of life, came together to honor those lost and hope for a brighter tomorrow where these issues are forever gone from our lives, or at the very least, lessened.
“Coordinator Daniel Roberts noted, “Next year we hope this event will be bigger and better. We plan to have the Mayor make a declaration of the day, have a moment of silence in the community, have community resource partners set up booths during the event, and much more. Overdose death is preventable. No stigma. No shame.” “For in my personal experience, I’ve had a couple of family members and friends that have passed away due to overdose,” said Daniel Roberts, Clay County SADD/Anti-Drug Coalition Prevention Coordinator. “So that’s what fuels my passion for my work that I do because, you know, them not being here, I would want, I want to help prevent that for the next generation to come. And for my family members currently that are in recovery or are currently still using. Community partners like churches and businesses have been trying to get the message out as well by displaying partnership signs, purple ribbons, and lighting.
“I also lost a close friend in high school due to an overdose,” said Kody Thompson, who’s also a prevention coordinator with the organization. “Our community is so close-knit, and if you ask anyone, they can probably tell you the same thing that they’ve lost a loved one. So we just really want to get it out there that overdose is 100% preventable."
The Clay County Anti Drug Coalition’s mission is to form partnerships between people and organizations in efforts of prevention and reduction of alcohol and substance abuse and related issues in Clay County.
This project was funded by a grant contract with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.