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Bristol Declares Aug. 31 International Overdose Awareness Day

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Rhonda Coffey lost her son, David, two years ago to a drug overdose.

Today would have been his 36th birthday.

On July 26, 2015, “the dynamic of my family changed forever,” Coffey said “I lost my firstborn son. My son Chris lost his brother.”

After David’s passing, Coffey founded The ADDICTS Family with her son Chris. It’s a nonprofit support group for those who have a family member in active addiction or who have lost a loved one.

“I knew I had to be the voice for David that he could not be for himself,” she said.

The City of Bristol marked International Overdose Day on Thursday with a program at Tennessee High School. The event, put together in less than a month, was hosted by The ADDICTS Family and Watauga Recovery Centers.

The program featured speakers, music, a candlelight ceremony and the colors purple and silver.

“Purple and silver have been the adopted as remembrance colors” for overdose awareness, Coffey said.

Organizations from throughout the region were at the event to shed light on the subject of drug overdose — assisting with education, creating community awareness and offering support.

City of Bristol Mayor Jack Young read a proclamation to declare Aug. 31 International Overdose Awareness Day.

“I know we have folks here who have experience with a family member dealing with addiction, or [are] here themselves recovering,” Young said. “[Addiction] affects all socioeconomic households; it affects all neighborhoods in our city, in our county and in our nation.”

About 144 people die from a drug overdose every day, according to Penny McElroy, director of marketing for Watauga Recovery Centers.

Across the street from Tennessee High, at Edgemont Presbyterian Church, there are 144 crosses on display as a solemn reminder.

Heroin and fentanyl are “readily available in the area,” McElroy said.

“I started [working for Watauga] six years ago, and I would see someone addicted to heroin about once a week,” McElroy said. “Now I see two to three a day.”

There are 619 beds in the Sullivan County Jail, and as of 3 p.m. on Thursday, there were 837 inmates, according to Kristen Quon, public information officer for the Sullivan County Sheriff's Office.

“Approximately 80 to 83 percent of our inmates have a drug-related charge,” Quon added.

Bristol Tennessee Police Chief Blaine Wade discussed how his department is reacting to the opioid crisis.

“The opioid crisis is rising quickly and we are responding to more calls,” Wade said.

The police department has implemented a training program on how to treat an emergency overdose, and officers carry a single dosage of Narcan on them at all times.

The top five drugs prescribed in Tennessee are opioids, according to Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus.

“We live in such a beautiful part of the world, with mountains, lakes, great music and generous people, but underneath that is this ugliness of drug addiction,” Staubus said.

Fifteen years ago, the opioids crisis wasn’t an issue, Staubus added.

“I’m not a utopian in thinking we can eliminate drug addiction completely,” he said. But “we got to fight the good fight.”

Two years ago, Christina Humphreys completed 18 months in rehab, after battling a drug addiction for about 10 to 12 years.

“I’ve been through several overdoses,” Humphreys said. “If I made it, anybody can.”

umphreys wrote her first book, “Sin,” while in rehab.

“It is my testimony,” she said. “I am a living testimony.”

During the candlelight ceremony, 219 names were read of those who died from an addiction.

“I was overwhelmed with responses from mothers from all across America that asked for us to read their child’s name,” Coffey said.

ADDICTS member Marsha Schorr partly joined the group because she lost her son eight years ago to an OxyContin addiction.

Being in the group has helped with the grieving, she said.

ADDICTS can help “turn a negative into a positive and stop someone else from being in my shoes,” Schorr said.

The nonprofit has a large online following, and they meet regularly on the second and fourth Friday of each month at Windsor Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tennessee.

When Coffey spoke to the crowd, she asked them to “open their hearts and remember they [the addicts] need love more than anything else.”

“No one is safe,” Coffey said. “No one decides that one day they’re going to be an addict. No one asked to be this way.”

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