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International Overdose Awareness Day remembers the lives lost to drugs and loved ones still grieving

Niagara Falls lit in purple
Niagara Falls Canada
Niagara Falls is among the landmarks illuminated in purple for International Overdose Awareness Day.

Tuesday is International Overdose Awareness Day, recognizing the human tragedy of drug overdoses, perhaps made worse by the long pandemic lockdown.

The annual event in front of Old County Hall on Franklin Street in Buffalo has become familiar, as the death toll continues to rise. It's an attempt to help those who have lost family or other loved ones to drugs and felt the stigma attached to that.

Cheryll Moore is director of the Erie County Opiate Epidemic Task Force, which sponsors the event.

"The grief that families are experiencing due to deaths due to overdoses is huge. Support isn't there for the them, the same as in other areas," Moore said. "If you lose someone to a cardiac death, everyone is there. Everyone is checking in on you, seeing if you are okay. Overdose deaths are kind of like a hidden secret. There's a lot of pain. There's a lot of secrecy. There's a lot of stigma."

The event has expanded from when it was a memorial service with family members who talked about what they are going through and the release of black balloons. Beginning at 10 a.m. Tuesday, there will be a day-long display to remind the public what has happened and a closing prayer at 6 p.m.

"We're burying our parents, our children, our siblings, our co-workers. Does it work? I don't know what work would be, but it does open the conversation," said Moore. "It helps to break down the stigma. It helps to get the support out there. We need to be open. We need to have a conversation about it and give people the support that they need."

Moore is among those survivors of someone who fatally overdosed.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.