NEWTON — Families and friends of local residents who died from a drug overdose will gather once again on the Newton Green next week for an annual candlelight vigil in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day.
The solemn ceremony organized by the Center for Prevention and Counseling will take place Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. The Green will be lined with luminarias and photos of loved ones who died from drug overdoses, while those still struggling with substance abuse will be recognized as well.
International Overdose Awareness Day, established in 2001, is a worldwide event held annually on Aug. 31 to reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths and remember those who have been affected by drug use. The day immediately precedes National Recovery Month, held every September to educate Americans on new practices to combat addiction.
Last year's vigil was split into two events, one a small in-person gathering and the other a virtual symposium addressing the opioid crisis, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attendees at the Green remained in small, socially distanced groups to mourn.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, New Jersey had the 10th-highest fatal overdose rate in the country in 2019, with 31.7 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate was almost twice that of 2015, when the state's 16.3 deaths per 100,000 people placed it 24th.
Data from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office shows 1,626 suspected drug-related deaths statewide through the first six months of 2021. That rate is roughly equivalent to 2020, when 3,046 suspected fatal overdoses were reported for the entire year.
Sussex County's overdose deaths decreased in 2021 compared with the same time last year. The county reported 11 suspected deaths through June 30, a rate less than half of the 48 reported last year.
Health officials attribute the decrease to various outreach programs and partnerships with local organizations to fight drug addiction. Officials said they are optimistic that resources available at Tuesday's vigil — including information on recovery support services and accessing Narcan to reverse opioid overdose — will further reduce the number of substance abuse deaths.
"There is so much energy and positive work being done in the community to provide recovery resources and reduce stigma around addiction and substance use disorder," said Shannon Derstine, marketing and communications coordinator for the Center for Prevention and Counseling. "Recovery is possible, and we’re fortunate to live in a county and state where resources are made available to the community at large."
Scheduled speakers for the event include Sussex County Prosecutor Francis Koch and center Executive Director Becky Carlson. Sean Muldowney, lead pastor of Market Street Mission Sussex County, will perform a blessing during the vigil.
For more information on the vigil, visit centerforprevention.org or call 973-940-2966.