“Since I’ve graduated high school, I’ve gone to exponentially more funeral services than I have weddings or birthday parties."
This past week, my colleague Sierra Thumann wrote a blog post on the opioid crisis, Drug Overdose Deaths Plaguing the Nation, that paints a sobering picture of the epidemic that has indiscriminately devastated communities across the nation. The post struck a chord with me for a number of reasons, chief among them the unique and heartbreaking regularity with which I have been personally affected by the loss of a friend or former classmate to an overdose. Since I graduated high school in 2001, my hometown has buried enough young people to rival the size of my graduating class. Two of my peers passed away from aggressive forms of cancer, and one of my classmates was among the victims killed in the Boston Marathon Bombings. For the rest, opiates, or one of the litanies of drug-related illnesses that result from long-term use caused the deaths.
What strikes me most is the fact that I am not unique among my age group. Here in Massachusetts, data collected by the state shows that in 2013-2014, opioids were responsible for 1 in 4 deaths among residents between the ages of 18 and 24, more than a third of deaths among those aged 25-34, and more than 40% of all deaths among men in that group. In Montgomery County, Ohio, officials are bracing for more than 800 deaths this year alone, and the state coroner estimates that his region, which covers just one-fifth of Ohio’s population, will see 10,000 overdose deaths in the coming year. Today, drug overdose is the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, surpassing gun deaths, automobile crashes, and even the height of the AIDS epidemic.
Since I’ve graduated high school, I’ve gone to exponentially more funeral services than I have weddings or birthday parties. When the number of deaths in my community became regular occurrences, an event was organized to remember those lost to the epidemic. In 2015, 40 people gathered together for the event. I didn’t attend this year, but the news reports showed well over 100 people in attendance and the number of collages scattered throughout the venue increased tenfold, providing a chilling visual backdrop to the event. With our constantly connected society, the death of a friend or loved one are constant reminders of what we’ve lost. Whether it’s a Facebook page turned memorial, or a string of text messages from someone who was full of life one day, and taken away the next, these reminders are persistent and at times overwhelming.
The Drug Overdose Deaths Plaguing the Nation blog post closed with the same point that I will, which is to say that there is no simple solution to the problem, but by using new technologies to be proactive, we can help those still struggling today. Many towns have been proactive, mirroring the ANGEL program in Gloucester, MA which destigmatizes addiction and offers help to those suffering from the disease. Rave has, and will continue to be proactive in providing tools for families to help their loved ones, and for our first responders to have the information necessary to save the life of you or someone you love. Sign up for a Smart911 Safety Profile, talk to your friends and loved ones, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is no group immune to this crisis, and by working together, we can fight back and ensure that when an emergency strikes, you are prepared to respond.