#NotInVain – Overdose Awareness Day Aug. 31

by Debbie Brown

May 14, 2017. Mother’s Day. Easily the darkest moment of my life. The day when life as I knew it ceased to exist. The day I received the call no parent wants to get informing me my son, Matthew, had died of an apparent drug overdose. My world shattered into a million tiny pieces. A shining ray of light had been extinguished. My world became darker. I couldn’t breathe. Believe me when I say there is no greater pain than what a parent experiences upon the death of a child. And that pain NEVER goes away.

My son never knew a stranger. He seemed to know everyone. People were always coming up to me asking me if I was Matt’s mom. He had a ready smile with a heart the size of Texas and beautiful blue eyes that danced when he was teasing his mama. And those hugs! Oh how I miss Matthew’s bear hugs. You knew you had been thoroughly loved after being the recipient of one of my son’s famous bear hugs.

As heartbroken as I am, I have to consider myself lucky. God blessed me with Matthew’s life for 34 years. Most children whose lives have been stolen by drugs don’t make it past their 25th birthday. May their lives be #NotInVain.  

Debbie Brown has decorated her home in observance of International Drug Awareness Day. Proclamations are planned by Conway Mayor Bart Castleberry, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Gov. Asa Hutchinson in observance of the special day. In addition, the bridges in Little Rock will be lit purple on Aug. 31. Local organizer Debbie Brown said the day is important in the lives of those who have lost loved ones to the ongoing drug epidemic.

Far too often people have preconceived ideas of what the face of addiction looks like. However, if they were to look closely, they might just find the face of addiction looks a lot like the boy or girl next door. Our kids are being labeled as miserable losers, unworthy of our compassion and love. They suffer alone, in silence, fearful of reaching out for help because of the stigma attached to this disease. Is that really ok…with anyone?  

We are striving to shine light on this preconception by humanizing addiction and removing the stigma that has been attached to it, a stigma that prevents so many from reaching out for help. I will be lighting up my home purple on Aug. 31 not just in remembrance of my son and all these young people, but for your child, too. Never should anyone be comfortable in saying, “Not my child” because trust me, it could be.

Light Up Our Country Purple and #NotInVain are two small, national grass roots campaigns aimed at calling attention to International Overdose Awareness Day, a day that has been designated in an effort to bring awareness to the drug epidemic and the lives lost to it. On this day, we are asking people to light up their homes and businesses with purple lights or decorate with purple ribbons, balloons and hearts to honor the thousands of lives lost to overdose.  #NotInVain is also asking that on this day all states lower their flags to half-staff in remembrance of those lives lost from the disease of addiction. We know it can be done because it was done for the coronavirus when 100,000 lives were lost to it. Last year, Wisconsin, New Jersey, Nevada and Massachusetts did a proclamation declaring Aug. 31 as International Drug Awareness Day.  We would like to see this done locally in Arkansas as well as nationwide. Arkansas is the second leading state in prescribing opioid medicines, with 66 of the state’s 75 counties prescribing rates higher than the national average.

According to the CDC (STATCAST-Week of Sept. 9, 2019), more than 770,000 Americans have died from drug overdoses since 1999. In 2019 alone, nearly 71,000 Americans, and I suspect that number is low, died of drug overdoses, a new record that predates the COVID-19 crisis, which the White House and many experts believe will drive such deaths even higher.  Imagine the lives that could be saved if the addiction pandemic received the same amount of attention and funding as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Preliminary numbers released on July 15 by the CDC show the trend is driven by fentanyl and similar synthetic opioids, which accounted for 36,500 overdose deaths. Deaths involving cocaine and methamphetamine also are rising. The overdose crisis, originally driven by prescription opioid painkillers, has switched over the years. Users have migrated to heroin and then to fentanyl, a cheaper, stronger drug that displaced heroin in many drug markets.  

We invite you to join the campaign to Light Up Our Country Purple on Aug. 31. The drug epidemic will only worsen and our children continue to be taken from us, if we, as a country, continue to bury our heads in the sand with the mindset that addiction only happens in other families. (Debbie can be reached at [email protected].)