Lafayette, IND. (WLFI) - People gathered on Sunday to celebrate International Overdose Awareness Day, though it isn’t officially happening until August 31st.
The theme of the day was “A time to remember, a time to act.”
The “act” part of this slogan was honored by starting out the day at the Surf Center with free Narcan training. Narcan is the drug that can be administered to reverse the effects of a drug overdose.
Donna Zoss, Training and Outreach Chair for the Drug Free Coalition of Tippecanoe County, led the training Sunday.
Zoss said according to recent numbers, it's predicted that 72,000 people across the U.S. died of a drug overdose in 2017.
To put that into perspective, that is about the same population size as the city of Lafayette. Of those 72,000, it is predicted that 1,800 were from the Hoosier state.
This is why she said she feels these trainings are so important to over coming the overdose epidemice in our country.
"We will go over and train the individuals about the use of Naloxone is for and then they will leave with with a kit,” she said.
Much of this is thanks to Aaron’s Law. Before 2015, only emergency personnel could carry and administer the life-saving drug.
However since this new law passed three years ago, the public can now get prescriptions for Narcan to use on friends or family members who are at risk.
Zoss is also personally affected by this disease. She said they tried for three years to save her youngest son from this disease, but nothing seemed to help. He died when he was just 21 years old.
"If we can save one life, it's one life that we can restore and that makes it all worth it," she said.
“I've been doing these Narcan trainings now for 2 years I believe, and of the Narcan that we have distributed, I've known of three lives saved already here in Tippecanoe county,” she said proudly.
After the training, there was a time of remembrance at Munger Park. The time was set aside to show love and support for those who have died, those who have survived and those who may still be struggling.
Banners covered in more than 200 silver stars were also on display. Silver being the official color of overdose. Each star represented an overdose death in Tippecanoe County since 2010.
“It’s a major problem,” emphasized Zoss. “We like to think it doesn’t happen here in our community but it is no doubt here.”
Rhonda Stein of West Lafayette knows the grief of losing someone to this disease all to well.
“Six and a half years ago, Thomas James Stein the fifth, we called him TJ, he passed of his Xanex and Tramadol overdose," she said as she tried to hold back tears.
She doesn’t remember him as the son who struggled with drug addiction.
“He was the most fun loving spirit ever,” she said with a smile. “He played football and won just about every wrestling competition he was ever in. He brought a lot of joy to us and everyone else.”
She speaks out so that other mothers don’t have to go through the suffering she has. She believes one simple action could have saved her son’s life.
"We need good samaritan laws so that people aren't afraid to save another person’s life,” she said. “Because his life could have been saved if 911 would have been called."
One person's life was spared who attended the awareness day.
Grace Paton shared her story of addiction, that started when she was just 11 years old.
After years of struggling with the disease, she was able to overcome it. She said she has been sober since April 2016.
She now works for the Tippecanoe County Syringe Services Program helping others who have been in her shoes.
“I think it makes a big difference when you can say I've been where you are and I would be where you are right now if I hadn't fixed my life,” she said.
She now uses her family, especially her 17-month-old daughter Layla, as motivation to keep herself on track.
“I really want to work with moms and babies,” she said of her goals for the future. “Babies that are born with NAS (Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome), that are addicted to opioids, and helping moms transition in and out of the hospital as well. That would be my dream job.”
Now they are all fighting to make sure the death toll statistics from drug overdose deaths finally stops.
"We've done enough studying, we've done enough talking, it's time to act as our overdose awareness day is saying, it's time to act," said Stein.