Since its inception in 2014, the Addiction Awareness Task Force has pursued various initiatives and projects in its continued effort to help those across Camden County battling addiction.
Such projects include the pilot-program of Project SAVE, a creation by the Gloucester Township Police Department which was later picked up by the county and has since been renewed for a three-year continuation, guest speakers at various areas of the county to speak on different addiction topics, providing Narcan to local police and fire departments and much more.
Now, at a board meeting last month, the Camden County Freeholder Board passed a resolution approving a project that seeks to reduce the stigma that still exists around those struggling with addiction.
“We want to offer a place for reflection to the families who live in, or are visiting, Camden County that lost a loved one to opioid use disorder; we want them to feel like their lives have been honored properly,” Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said in a county release.
With construction anticipated to start later this month, a memorial is to be built at Timber Creek Park in Gloucester Township featuring a large purple ribbon, the universal symbol of opioid addiction awareness. A spiraling, sloped wall with benches for seated reflection will surround the memorial.
The 128-acre park has been the location of numerous remembrance vigils on Opioid Awareness Day during the summer. The Freeholder Board anticipates the memorial will be complete in time to host this years’ vigil at the new location on Aug. 31.
“If this memorial can start a conversation between two people about opioid use or about the stigma surrounding this disease, then that alone makes the entire project worth it. We want to show people that they’re not alone and that our community is facing this epidemic together,” Cappelli said.
According to Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, the creation of the memorial area is something the county has been looking forward to for a few years. After launching a substantial amount of programs and initiatives that can help create positive change, the county now wants to create a fixture within the county that can help with the social aspect of the problem.
“It’s something we’d been talking about doing for quite a while now,” Rodriguez said. “One of the most important goals of the task force in general is to remove the stigma of addiction, and we believe this memorial will help to do that. The way that you do that is by honoring the individuals who have fallen because of this addiction; we all have to recognize that this isn’t something they could easily control, as many people seem to think.
“It’s an illness, it’s not a choice.”
According to multiple Camden County officials, the project will cost approximately $437,000, which will come from the county’s capital funds.
According to Rodriguez, the county is currently exploring the idea of allowing for those in the community to purchase personalized bricks that can honor those that have passed away due to addiction or to honor others that continue to fight.
“For families that have lost loved ones because of this horrible disease, we hope that it will give them a sense of peace to truly know that it wasn’t anything that they may have done,” Rodriguez said. “But that it’s an illness, just like diabetes or any other disease that can take your life. We want to honor loved ones from Camden County and take away that stigma that still exists around addiction and opioids.”