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Overdose Awareness: local groups partner to educate, treat and remember

Veterans and members at New Roots Recovery Center in Wilkes-Barre were treated to a "steak and shake" lunch on Tuesday. A partnership between the Food Dignity Movement and New Roots called attention to overdose awareness ahead of day commemorated internationally on Aug. 31.
Veterans and members at New Roots Recovery Center in Wilkes-Barre were treated to a "steak and shake" lunch on Tuesday. A partnership between the Food Dignity Movement and New Roots called attention to overdose awareness, an international campaign honored on Aug. 31.

Remembering loved ones and encouraging treatment, communities in northeastern and central Pennsylvania planned vigils, education events and picnics ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.

Over the next week, groups across the region will set up prescription drug take-back sites, distribute naloxone and host memorial walks and processions. Their goal: bring attention to preventable drug overdoses.

“Some people are mourning the loss of family or friends, but we’re kind of celebrating because there are people that do recover,” said Lyndsay Guirin, director of operations at New Roots Recovery Support Center in Wilkes-Barre. The organization also has offices in Tamaqua and Hazleton and plans to open a satellite office in Peckville, Lackawanna County later this year.

On Tuesday, New Roots partnered with the Food Dignity Movement to host a cookout with steak, milkshakes and vegetables for clients in recovery for substance use disorder. They used the opportunity to highlight their peer-support services and promote healthy living.

Food Dignity, which connects community groups with Pa. farm crops, teamed up with New Roots last year to share local produce and prepare meals each week for clients and staff. This week’s meal included Clapper Family Beef, ice cream and milk from Hillside Farms and produce from Burger’s Family Farm.

Volunteers like Julius Zuckerwar said the recovery center has kept him motivated since he joined in 2019. He’s been sober for 19 years and cooks at New Roots on Tuesdays.

Organizers say easy access to quality food is important, especially for people in treatment for substance use disorder. They said sometimes a hot meal can encourage return visits to their certified recovery specialists, who have managed addiction themselves and offer advice to newcomers in treatment.

“It’s something we battle with everyday. We’ve gotten to the point where we were able to help ourselves and now we want to help other people,” said Constance Villano, a New Roots recovery specialist. “And it’s just easier, because we can relate to them and they can relate to us. It helps people open up a lot more.”

President Joe Biden declared a national overdose awareness week in August 2021 and the worldwide awareness campaign began in 2001.

Other events in the region to honor overdose awareness:

Saturday, Aug. 26, 6 - 9 p.m. – Berwick, Pa. (Sponsler Park, 600 Monroe St.)
Speakers, memorials, resources and a candlelight vigil hosted by Jeremy’s Journey. Loved ones are asked to bring framed photos for a memorial table.

Sunday, Aug. 27, 3 - 6 p.m. – Wilkes-Barre, Pa. (Kirby Park amphitheater)
Hosted by the NEPA Chapter of GRASP (Grief Recovery After Substance Passing), “this event includes speakers, information tables, Narcan training, a memory walk, food, music and raffle baskets ending with a balloon release,” according to an online listing.

Thursday, Aug. 31, 5:30- 7:30 p.m. – Tamaqua, Pa. (Depot Square Park, 1 W. Broad St.)
Memorial ribbons, an Rx drug take-back site, food and drink. Hosted by Safer Streets for Tamaqua.

Thursday, Aug. 31, 6 - 7 p.m. – Honesdale, Pa. (the Cooperage Project, 1030 Main St.)
In collaboration with the Wayne County YMCA, organizers will hold a candlelight vigil. Speakers to include the Wayne County Heroin Prevention Task Force.

Thursday, Aug. 31, parking lot opens 5:30, program at 6:30 p.m. –Stroudsburg, Pa. (Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church, 915 N. 5th St.)
An escorted memorial procession in Stroudsburg, hosted by Rays of Hope for Addiction. Live music, pinwheel dedication and slideshow of loved ones. More information at the event website.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.