Decatur High School, GA

International Overdose Awareness Day observed in Decatur

Every year on Aug. 31, people around the world gather to observe International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) to recognize the strain overdoses have had on people’s lives. In Decatur, Terrie Moore, along with the Decatur Prevention Initiative (DPI), held a candlelight vigil in front of the Decatur Presbyterian Church to reduce the stigma surrounding drug-related deaths. 

“When I first learned about this international day, I saw a candlelight vigil in front of the White House and there was something about it that touched me,” Moore said. 

The audience lights candles while Moore speaks in the background.

Walking up to the small crowd of people gathered in front of the church, participants were serenaded by a local bagpiper, Corbin McKinnon, who played the song “Let’s We Forget” as tribute. Each person was given a candle as well as a silver badge: the symbol of the overdose awareness movement. 

As the music came to an end, Moore stepped up on a small soapbox to tell the crowd the meaning behind IOAD and asked them to take a moment of silence to remember those lost to an overdose. Breaking the silence, people began naming family and friends whose death they were honoring and names of those who are in recovery. 

“It is time to break the stigma associated with addiction,” Moore said. “There is hope and recovery, but we have to bring addiction out of the shadows and into the light.”

Ginger Kester, a local ‘Warrior Mom’, then stepped up to the front of the crowd to tell the story of her son, Parker, who she remembers as a high achieving, attractive young man that suffered from addiction. Kester remembers putting clothes away one day and finding in his sock drawer a small bag filled with marijuana.

“I asked him about it and he said, ‘mom, don’t worry, it’s just a little pot’ and that sentence has resonated with me ever since,” Kester said. 

“McKinnon will play his final tune of the day, “Let’s We Forget”, Moore said. “This tune was written by Stuart Samson and he performed it at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh as a remembrance tune and taught it to Corbin a few years ago here in Atlanta.”

She spoke about how Parker was hospitalized many times due to overdoses and even rolled his car into a ditch while under the influence. While in college, he passed from an overdose of Xanax that he was unaware was laced with Fentanyl. 

Tom Smarch, the father of a boy named Joseph, spoke about his son started to hang out with the wrong group of people at a young age and was exposed to drugs. His parents tried many times to help him and he was starting on a path towards helping others battling with addiction. Before he could reach full recovery he died of an overdose in his room. 

Two ‘stories of hope’ were then told by a man and a woman who have battled with addiction and were in long term recovery. Both of them mentioned the struggle to publicly talk about their addiction and wanted to break the stigma surrounding overdoses.

Vera Molina told the crowd that her upbringing that was filled with suffering and hardships. After her recovery, she became a certified peer specialist and now helps people affected by mental illnesses. 

The last speaker read a poem submitted by Lori Heeman, who started ‘Joe’s Fund’ in Decatur to support adolescents in the community struggling with mental health issues or addiction. 

 “Two Days We Should Not Worry” being read to the crowd. Click this picture to learn more about Joe’s Fund.

To close the event, Moore returned to the front of the crowd to thank the speakers and ask the participants to leave their candles so they could be turned into one large tribute candle.

“We’ve lost so many people, many of whom we don’t talk about, and it’s very silent in some communities,” Moore said. “I wanted to bring awareness to the fact that [addiction] is impacting so many families and that it’s okay to come out and talk about it.”

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