Third Black Balloon Day keeps opioid overdose awareness in focus

The annual event spreads knowledge of opioid overdoses in Adams County and works to destigmatize attitudes around the issue of substance abuse.

Third Black Balloon Day keeps opioid overdose awareness in focus
Members of the Opioid Awareness Task Force stand in front of an arch of black and purple balloons to honor those who've lost their lives to opioid overdoses.

The Overdose Awareness Task Force (OATF) held its third annual Black Balloon Day this past Monday, March 6, on Gettysburg’s Lincoln Square in hopes to educate people in the Adams County community about ways to help a loved one if they experience an overdose.

Diane and Lauren Hurley established Black Balloon Day in 2016 to remember their family member Greg Tremblay who lost his life to an overdose, according to Retreat Behavioral Health, a nationwide provider of behavioral health resources. The event has gone on to highlight the realities of overdose in the lives of many and now influences people across the country and the world.

“We see the impact when family members come to us. They want to share their stories, sometimes about loved ones they’ve lost,” said Andrea Dolges, executive director of the Center for Youth and Community Development.

Adams County lost five citizens to overdose in 2022, a decrease from 17 deaths in 2021. The county coroner's office keeps record of the count each year.

When community members come to the event, they walk away with knowledge about the ways substance abuse and overdose have influenced their community, and take their own opioid overdose reversal kit with instructions on how to use it.

Marty Qually, Adams County commissioner, said “the first thing is to educate the public in order to get the word out” about the kits. Dolges added “We’re trying really hard to get Narcan out because it’s a life-saving drug that should be available to everybody.”

The kits contain two doses of naloxone (brand name Narcan), a drug that blocks the effects of an opioid overdose in a person and restores breathing. Matt Moon, a Gettysburg Borough council representative on the OATF, thinks it is important for people to know about the “miracle drug.”

While the hosts of this event think it is important for the public to know about tools to use, another part of their mission is to break down the stigma that creates narratives about people who suffer an overdose.

“We also are working in stigma reduction because we understand that sometimes people won't seek help when there is a stigma,” Dolges said.

“What I want the public to take away is just a greater level of awareness,” Qually explained. “Years ago, when we talked about drug addiction, it was negative. It was the addict, the criminal. We had more of a punishment mindset.”

“Now we’re learning and … we’re putting into practice a more trauma-informed” approach to prevention and treatment, he added.

Britt Roth just happened to be in town to catch a bus when they saw the event on the square. Roth lost their mom to opioid abuse. “It was gradual. It destroyed her mind, had destroyed her liver. It destroyed a lot of things, and she didn’t realize what was going on.”

“It’s an insidious type of abuse,” they emphasized.

When asked what they learned from the event, Roth said that “this shows us that it can literally happen to anyone. No one is immune.” But they added that “anyone can step in and prevent” the spiral of abuse. “Just be aware.”

Overdose awareness in Adams County is acknowledged in many other ways in the community. “Between this and our overdose awareness walk that happens in August of every year, the community members have the opportunity to dialogue on this topic and access to resources,” Dolges said.

More programming-centered overdose awareness is on its way. Dolges talked about an event currently in the works that will discuss new trends in drug use that would help inform adults about “what might be out there and facing the community.”

To learn more about the Adams County Overdose Awareness Task Force (OATF), including upcoming events, visit their website.