Emily Harger

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West Virginia Overdose Awareness Tribute - August 27, 2016

Ryan Fieldman, 33, kneels during the opening prayer at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute at the State Capitol in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. Ryan is currently in recovery at Jacob's Ladder in Aurora, WV.

Family and friends of loved ones who were lost because of opioid overdose attended the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute at the State Capitol in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. 

This past Saturday, hundreds came together on the steps of West Virginia's State Capitol with a pair of shoes in hand. The afternoon felt heavy like the thick Appalachian summer heat that surrounded us. One woman had a duffle bag full of shoes around her shoulder, each pair in remembrance of a loved one lost to the opioid epidemic.

 

PK Tyler brought a duffle bag filled with pairs of shoes to commemorate those she knew who were lost to drug overdose. "There should've been a lot more [shoes]," said Tyler, who says she can't remember everyone she's lost to an overdose. 

 

Cici Brown , who lost her son Ryan to an opioid overdose in 2014, organized a tribute on the riverside steps of the State Capitol in Charleston, WV. Here, one could sense how vast the opioid epidemic stretched across this region. No one was free from knowing someone who had died from an overdose — from addicts in recovery to an 11-year-old daughter who lost both her parents. The epidemic impacted all of us in some way. 

 

Lauri Martin, left, and Gale McComas, right comfort Abigale Boling, 11, on the State Capitol steps during the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. Abigale lost both of her parents to heroine overdoses and has lived with her grandmother Gale since she was three weeks old. Abigale's father Travis Boling passed away less than two months ago on July 7, and her mother Shana Weekly passed away a little over two years ago. 

Stephen Zoeller listens during the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. 

Amy Allford is comforted by Mark Henley, both recovering addicts. "We've lost many, many friends," says Allford.

Justin Ponton embraces Sue Ellen Chapman after she spoke of her late son Andrew Harrison Hutchison "Hutch The Dutch" in front of a crowd of hundreds at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute at the State Capitol in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. Ponton is the director of the 9th Avenue Newness of Life recovery lifehouse. 

 

I grew up in Washington County, Pa., where just last year 25 people overdosed in two days, three of whom died. Gratefully, I have never known someone closely who has OD'ed. But so many classmates of mine struggled with addiction. A student from my high school passed away from an overdose when I was a freshman in college. I remember hearing about it while living in Ohio and the feeling the tension of the stigma of drug addiction. Many from my hometown saw heroin addiction as a problem deeply rooted in someone's character, and not as the disease that addiction truly is.

The tribute was a space to break the stigma of opioid addiction and to provide resources for recovery and life-saving medication. The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department distributed free naloxone packages to patrons of the tribute as well as a training session for how to administer the drug during an overdose. While naloxone is available over-the-counter, prices are often too expensive for many to purchase it, ranging from $237 to $3000 for a package of two.

Dr. Michael Brumage of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department distributes naloxone adminstration for free to a crowd of people at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. The life-saving drug, while offered over-the-counter, is often too expensive to buy without a prescription.

Dr. Michael Brumage of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department distributes naloxone adminstration for free to a crowd of people at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. The life-saving drug, while offered over-the-counter, is often too expensive to buy without a prescription.

Dr. Michael Brumage of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department demonstrates how to perform naloxone adminstration to a crowd of people at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016.

Dr. Michael Brumage of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department demonstrates how to perform naloxone adminstration to a crowd of people at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016.

Robert White, who lost his son Seth White to a heroin overdose, says the state of West Virginia needs to change its legislation towards addicts. "We need to stop treating addicts like criminals," says White, "and we need to stop administering opioids for chronic pain." 

West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day will be proclaimed on August 31, 2016 at the Governor's office at the State Capitol in Charleston.

Robert White places his hat on his son Seth White's shoes at the West Virginia Overdose Awareness Day Tribute at the State Capitol in Charleston, WV on August 27, 2016. Seth's birthday was the day before the tribute and Robert's birthday is the day after. "For 25 years, Seth and I celebrated our birthdays together watching basketball or football games". 

Emily Harger