Camden County will host its sixth annual Remembrance and Hope Memorial Vigil in memory of those who lost their lives to a drug overdose on Aug. 31, International Overdose Awareness Day.
“Back when we began our opioid addiction task force (in 2014), one of our objectives was to educate the public about the problem of addiction disorders and also to try and remove the stigma that was associated with the disorder,” said County Commissioner Louis Cappelli.
“We thought by recognizing those who had tragically lost their lives to addiction disorders, we could remove the stigma and educate the public at the same time.”
Cappelli noted that factors driving the number of overdoses include abuse of addictive prescription drugs.
“When the manufacturers of these pills went to doctors, they said that the pills are not addictive, so our medical community has come to largely depend on opioids for pain treatment,” Cappelli explained. “Unfortunately, the pills are addictive. The manufacturers knew about it, and therefore we must educate the public on the dangers of taking these prescribed drugs.”
A slideshow during the vigil will identify those who lost their lives to overdose and feature speakers who will address the impact of overdose on loved ones. New pavers will also be added to the memorial site.
The CDC estimates that more than 100,000 people in the U.S. have died from a drug overdose between April 2020 and April 2021, an increase of 56,000 compared with the year before. According to nj.gov, New Jersey saw 3,124 suspected drug overdoses in 2021, 335 of them in Camden County.
The vigil’s keynote speaker will be Mantua resident Tanya Niederman, whose 19-year-old son Justin died earlier this year from fentanyl poisoning.
“I’m hoping we can find ways to make this (reality) more real so that people can kind of understand,” Niederman said, noting that her son was a recreational user of cocaine. “I feel like each opportunity I get to tell a story and what happened to him, and our family is an opportunity to save a life.
“The reality is that nothing I do or say is going to bring him back, but we can try to keep it from happening to someone else.”
Camden County offers many resources on mental health and addiction, including a fentanyl awareness campaign and an addiction task force that recommends policies and initiatives. Cappelli said a policy to make narcan more widely available in schools and buses is in the works.
The Remembrance and Hope Memorial Vigil will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Timber Creek Park in Blackwood. Those interested in having their loved one featured in the slide show should submit their name and picture at https://bit.ly/3dA89L8. People who have submitted pictures in the past will have to resubmit for this year.
Those struggling with addiction can call the county help hotline at (877) 266-8882. To learn more about addiction resources, visit https://www.camdencounty.com/service/mental-health-and-addiction/addiction-resources/