Hope and Remembrance vigil connects Camden County families

Officials and community members reflect on substance abuse and opioid epidemic

Hundreds of families gather on Aug. 31 at Timber Creek Park on Overdose Awareness Day to remember loved ones who have died from substance abuse. (EMILY LIU/The Sun)

Hundreds of families made their way to Timber Creek Park on Aug. 31 to take part in the annual Hope and Remembrance Memorial Vigil, an event that recognizes deaths from substance abuse on Overdose Awareness Day.

Prior to the vigil, families were invited to submit names and photos of their lost loved ones to be included in a slide show during the event, held at a park memorial created last year. They were also invited to purchase pavers engraved with a lost loved one’s name to be added there.

Upon entry, guests were handed flameless candles and purple ribbons. Booths had resources available for people struggling with addiction or their families. Throughout the night, officials and community members addressed the crowd to reflect on the opioid epidemic.

In 2020, we lost 93,000 Americans to a drug overdose; the most deaths ever recorded in a single year,” Congressman Donald Norcross said, via a representative. “This includes more than 3,000 New Jersians, nearly 300 right here in Camden County.”

“Although our effort is great and we have made an impact in raising awareness, reducing stigma and expanding treatment, we cannot give up until our children stop dying and addiction is treated like any other disease,” said Camden County Commissioner Louis Cappelli Jr.

He praised the Addiction Awareness Task Force for its hard work, and commended  organizations that offer resources. They include Operation SAL, which offers a 24-hour emergency phone line, emergency detox, and short-term residency; HALO (Healing After Loss of Overdose), a 24/7 information line; and Project SAVE, which brings certified alcohol and drug counselors into municipal courts to aid people arrested for substance abuse-related offenses.

“In 2019, 1,411 people were enrolled in the program, (with) 1,318 treatment admissions,” Cappelli said. “It has resulted in fewer overdoses and fatalities.”

Later in the vigil, physical therapist Dr. Joan Marciniak reflected on her son Jackson, who died three years ago at 27, and the struggles and triumphs he had with drug abuse.

“I failed to see the red flags of my son’s prescription-drug abuse, although I knew every sign and symptom, since I had seen it for years in my patients,” she noted.

“ … What followed for the next 10 years was a long hard battle of addiction, rehab, recovery and relapse, with the cycle repeating itself,” Marciniak added. “The toll that it took on our family is immeasurable, but there are also great moments of triumph and hope.”

Marciniak also spoke on the dangers of fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid created to treat severe pain that can slow and stop breathing. And she encouraged people to be mindful of their words.

“Words are powerful and can have an impact on a person’s recovery and how they feel about themselves,” she explained. “Instead of saying ‘an addict, an abuser, a junkie or a druggie,’ use the term ‘a person with substance-abuse disorder.

“Changing our vocabulary can go a long way in destigmatizing substance use and can help to heal those still struggling and those in recovery,” Marciniak added.

The full vigil can be viewed at .https://www.camdencounty.com/service/mental-health-and-addiction/hope-and-remembrance-memorial/