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Lights of Hope Event Shines Light on Addiction and Overdoses

BRISTOL, Tenn. — At the third annual Lights of Hope event Sunday evening, people told stories of addiction, learned about ways to fight the ongoing opioid epidemic and held candles to remember their loved ones who are still suffering from addiction or had their lives claimed by it.

About 30 people attended the event, which was hosted by the Addicts Family and the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition and was held at Anderson Park from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

“It’s to raise awareness and celebrate those in active addiction, those in recovery and those who have passed,” said Rhonda Coffey, founder of the Addicts Family.

In 2017, there were 1,776 overdoses in Tennessee, of which 1,268 were opioid related. In Virginia, there were 1,534 overdose deaths, of which 1,227 were opioid related.

The event featured speakers who talked about the ongoing addiction problems in the area and the country as a whole. It also featured poster boards and a slideshow that contained hundreds of pictures in memory of people who had died from overdoses.

Sullivan County Sheriff Jeff Cassidy speaks about the ongoing drug epidemic at the Lights of Hope event.

Leif Greiss/Bristol Herald Courier

Jeff Cassidy, the new Sullivan County Sheriff, attended the event and spoke about his own personal experience with losing someone to addiction and what the Sheriff’s Office was doing to fight the ongoing drug problem. Cassidy told a story about a friend who worked with him in the Sheriff’s Office and, after suffering a back injury, became addicted to prescription opioids and died of an overdose in 2013.

Cassidy said that he sees the effects of the epidemic every day, and that 85 percent of crime the Sheriff’s Office deals with revolves around the ongoing drug epidemic. He said the Sheriff’s Office is trying to use the resource officers in county schools to reach kids at early ages and that officers with the Sheriff’s Office are taking steps to combat drug trafficking, which has grown in the region.

Others who attended had personally suffered with addiction. Donald Dorsey, who currently lives with his girlfriend in Bristol, Tennessee, but is native to North Carolina, said he was released from the hospital on Saturday for an overdose he experienced Friday morning. Dorsey, 36, said it was his first overdose despite using drugs for more than a decade of his life.

“I was injecting heroin into my arm last week,” Dorsey said. “Thursday night I did 20 grams of heroin, and Friday morning I did 50 grams, and it almost killed me.”

Dorsey said he was looking into rehab facilities so he could get clean.

Sherry Barnett, a regional overdose prevention specialist with the Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition, had also suffered with an addiction to opioids, and she spoke at the event about how to use naloxone to save the lives of people who are overdosing.

The Addicts Family is a nonprofit founded by Rhonda Coffey, after her son David Coffey died from an overdose in 2015 at the age of 33. Rhonda Coffey has been involved with all three Light of Hope events.

The Sullivan County Anti-Drug Coalition is a community organization that aims to reduce underage and binge drinking in 14- to 25-year-olds, underage access to tobacco and prescription drug abuse through education and advocacy.

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