PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Every Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day and local organizations are coming together for a night of celebration, education and reflection.
Be it from pills, powder, or prescription, Peoria County is no stranger to the nationwide drug overdose epidemic.
Advocates said the community is sitting at about 19 deadly overdoses this year, but there are community activists working to reverse these negative trends.
“Last year, we saw a 50 percent decrease in fatal overdoses and we want to build on that success, one overdose death is one too many,” Chris Schaffner, program director of JOLT Harm reduction in Peoria, said.
Schaffner said the deadly overdose numbers are on par with last year’s and shouldn’t surpass them. He said harm reduction efforts such as education and Narcan distribution are helping to reduce the problem that affects the entire community.
“There’s this myth that people who use drugs don’t contribute to the economy, and that’s just not true,” Schaffner said. “That’s not at all what we see here.”
“Many of the people that we interact with who use drugs are professionals,” Schaffner said. “They have full-time jobs, they have homes and when you pull them out of the economy because of a death that impacts all of us.”
But in the fight against the epidemic comes International Overdose Day which is dedicated to remembering and mourning those who have died from an overdose.
In previous years, activists in Peoria have held candlelight vigils, but this year things will be more upbeat.
The Peoria Chiefs are hosting JOLT Harm Reduction for the night during its home game at Dozer Park.
“We also want to celebrate the lives of people we’ve lost and bring awareness to this epidemic and so we’re using this platform this year to kind of broaden our audience,” Schaffner said.
He said the fundraiser will feature JOLT’s staff throwing the game’s first ball, educational opportunities for attendees to interact with JOLT, and a tennis ball toss for those in the crowd to compete for prizes.
Dustin Fitzpatrick, director of promotions and game day presentation for the Peoria Chiefs, said the night will also acknowledge the living as well as the deceased.
“The message of that day is all about celebration and understanding those that we’ve lost due to overdose, but also an opportunity to celebrate those that have overcome overdose and their addictions,” Fitzpatrick said. “And giving them an opportunity to be here with us to say ‘hey, I fight this battle, I fight this battle every day, but give me a chance to celebrate.”
He said the game starts at 6:36 p.m. and doors will open to the public at 5:35 p.m.