Centre County hosted a candlelight remembrance Thursday night to honor those who died of a drug overdose. The event is ahead of this Saturday’s International Overdose Awareness Day.
April Helsel, a member of the county’s Heroin & Opioid Prevention & Education Initiative, lost her daughter, Katharine, three years ago to an opioid overdose. Helsel said it’s important to pay tribute to the lives that have been lost.
“We need to remember that they were alive,” Helsel said. “It keeps the heroin epidemic and the fentanyl epidemic up front and center. And that’s what we need to do is to make sure that nobody else goes through what we’re going through or what our kids went through.”
Helsel wore a purple top, which is the color that represents opioid addiction awareness. Throughout September, which is National Recovery Month, Centre County and the HOPE initiative will place purple ribbons throughout the region to spread the message.
Helsel was one of four people who shared memories about their loved ones. Speakers talked about the need to educate the community that substance use disorder is a disease. They also urged those in need to seek help and enter treatment.
Centre County Commissioner Steve Dershem chairs the HOPE initiative. He said, the county will continue to educate about substance use disorder with the goal of reducing stigma. District Attorney Bernie Cantorna agreed.
“We need to talk about it,” Cantorna said.
Overdose deaths decreased in Pennsylvania and nationwide in 2018. Centre County has had two overdose deaths in 2019 so far. But researchers warn of increasing use of other drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamines.
WPSU news intern Brittany Krugel contributed to this story.