WARREN, Ohio (WKBN) – On Wednesday night, several events commemorated lives lost to drug overdoses and gave hope to those fighting addiction on International Overdose Awareness Day.
Two candlelight vigils drew crowds in Warren and Lisbon. Speakers discussed addiction, the fight against it and how to change society’s stigma of who is affected by it.
Nicole Gatrell’s son, Alek, was just 21 years old when he lost his life to heroin addiction in June.
“It started about three years ago. We found out in high school, we tried to figure out what was going on,” Gatrell said. “We thought he was just being a typical teenager, and talking to the school, nobody knew he was using drugs.”
She was one of many in Warren who gathered for Ohio Change Addiction Now’s (CAN) Overdose Awareness Day to remember the lives lost and support brighter futures for those struggling.
A similar story was told at a vigil in Lisbon.
Amy Giovannone’s daughter was found naked, beat up and thrown out of her car after a conflict over drugs. Her addiction started with pain killers following a surgery when she was 15 years old.
Giovannone told the crowd Wednesday about the difference between enabling and supporting. She says people struggling with addiction need to be told they can make it out.
“We don’t have to stay in that misery, and we can make something good out of it and help other people,” Giovannone said. “By helping other people, we help ourselves and we do need to bring awareness to this issue and, hopefully, get some changes made in society.”
Amanda Shaulis has been sober for a year, and was there to support the movement Wednesday.
“My career was nursing and due to my addiction, I ended up losing my career and at 32 years old, having to start all over,” she said.
Shaulis says if she can help even one person who is currently struggling, that’s all that matters.
The message Ohio CAN wants to deliver is that drug addiction can affect anyone, from professionals to teenagers.
“Everybody just needs to be coming together as a community instead of on their own. It’s not a divide and conquer, it’s everybody coming together and supporting the epidemic that we have going on right now,” said Elizabeth Beckley, vice president of Ohio CAN.
Despite rainy weather, 50 to 75 people attended both outdoor candlelight vigils.