New Billboard Campaign Looks to Stop Overdose Deaths
A group of East Tennesseans unveiled a new effort to reduce overdose deaths Monday.
Tennessee Overdose Prevention gathered 12 families for the launch of their new billboard campaign “Don’t Run, Call 911.”
By featuring loved ones lost to overdose, they hope to show the impact addiction has on people’s lives.
For Heather Ruzic, broadcasting her pain wasn’t easy, but it was the right thing to do. Her son, Caleb Smythia, died on Christmas Day of an overdose.
Now, his face graces one of the billboards.
“That’s what I want, what I’m fighting for,” said Ruzic. “I want everyone to see his face. He’s a beautiful person, and didn’t deserve to die. He had a sickness and didn’t get treatment in time.”
“These parents are reaching out so we can see the faces,” said Nancy Daniels, founder of Tennessee Overdose Prevention. “We want to be the faces of overdose in this community.”
She says she hopes anyone passing by these billboards is reminded that help is out there. She also hopes anyone in that situation would call 911 for help.
Knoxville Police began carrying the anti-overdose drug Naloxone last year. Since then, they’ve saved 37 lives, said Deputy Chief Gary Holliday.
“We realized we need to do something, because we were the first on the scene for a lot of these cases,” he said. “We didn’t want to have to wait on the fire department or EMS, we want to be able to help these people immediately.”
Holliday said they want anyone witnessing an overdose to call for help – not flee the scene for fear of consequences. Tennessee is one of 38 states with laws that provide some sort of immunity when reporting an overdose.
The Tennessee code reads: “Any person who in good faith seeks medical assistance for a person experiencing or believed to be experiencing a drug overdose shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence for the arrest, charge, or prosecution of the drug violation resulted from seeking such medical assistance. Any person who is experiencing a drug overdose and who in good faith seeks medical assistance for or is the subject of a request for medical assistance shall not be arrested, charged, or prosecuted for a drug violation if the evidence for the arrest, charge, or prosecution of the drug violation resulted from seeking such medical assistance.”
“You don’t need to worry about anything, you need to notify us, and we’ll come in and help this person,” Holliday said.
Tennessee Overdose Prevention also hopes to raise awareness for International Overdose Awareness Day, which is coming up on Aug. 31.
Ruzic is also hosting an awareness event in honor of Caleb on Sept. 10, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at The Hive.