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As Overdose Death Toll Rises, Grassroots Group Fights Stigma with Overdose Awareness Event

On Thursday night, as the lights across the Henley Bridge glow purple, some will mourn the loss of a loved one. Some will be grateful for a second chance.

And some, Nancy Daniels hopes, will see it as a beacon, will see that they have support to pull them out of the depths of drug addiction.

Daniels is founder of Tennessee Overdose Prevention, a grassroots nonprofit organization that will sponsor its second Overdose Awareness Day event 5-9 p.m. Thursday starting at the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame and proceeding to Volunteer Landing, weather permitting. It’s part of the observance of Aug. 31 as International Overdose Awareness Day.

As of last week, Knox County’s 226 overdose deaths already had surpassed the total for all of 2016, which was 221 – despite the increased availability of the drug naloxone, which can reverse the symptoms of opioid overdose, and everyone from law enforcement and the legal system to churches and schools scrambling for ways to stem the tide.

As with last year’s event, Thursday’s will have a roster of speakers addressing the legal system, addiction recovery services, the use of naloxone and advocacy, including District Attorney General Charme Allen, Knoxville Police Commander Deputy Chief Gary Holliday, Knox County Recovery Court Judge Chuck Cerny and director Ron Hanaver, and representatives from several recovery programs. Family advocates also will speak. TN Overdose Prevention will livestream the event via its Facebook page.

There will be booths with recovery support organizations; children’s activities; a slide show to remember those who died from their addictions; and a photo shoot to honor those who survived – TN Overdose Prevention’s “Faces of Recovery.”

Weather permitting, the evening will end with a candlelight vigil with the bridge in the background.

Lighting the bridge was the brainchild of volunteer Kelli Shoopman, Daniels said, and spurred a statewide reaction: Nashville advocate Bethany Morse arranged for the Korean War Vets Bridge there and the Harahan Bridge in Memphis to be purple also. In Chattanooga, the Tennessee Aquarium and Liberty Building will be purple, and advocates in Bristol, Tenn., will tie purple ribbons around lampposts.

“Not all overdoses are fatal -- in fact, most are not, and that’s largely due to the (Good Samaritan) law and naloxone,” Morse said. “Overdose Awareness Day is to honor those who lost their fight, but it’s also a message of hope from those of us who survived. We are a message that we go on to do great things and help others, that we are worthy of being saved.

“Because I was spared multiple times, I feel it is my responsibility, my duty, to help save as many as I can live and for those who didn’t make it.”

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