International Overdose Awareness Day organizers hope to reduce opioid-related fatalities

Evelyn Holmes Image
Thursday, August 31, 2023
West Side organizers hope to reduce opioid-related overdose fatalities
An Overdose Awareness Day event brought together organizers and health workers who provide Narcan nasal spray and fentanyl test strips.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Enrique Avila knows all too well the pain of losing a loved one to an opioid addition after his brother, Alex, died of an overdose.

"The loss has been overwhelming," Avila said.

The passing of the 47-year-old father of five is one of the deaths being highlighted on Thursday as a community marks International Overdose Awareness Day.

In its fifth year and sponsored by the West Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force, the event was held on Chicago's West Side, which organizers say continues to be an epicenter of the crisis.

"We on the taskforce are looking to destigmatize drug abuse," said Veel Harrison with the West Side Heroin/Opioid Task Force.

According to the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, there were a record 2,000 opioid overdose deaths in 2022. They reported that more than half of the victims are African American and more than 91% of opioid overdose deaths involve fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

State Rep. Lashawn Ford is supporting the community of drug treatment advocates.

"More people die on the West Side of Chicago than any location in the state of Illinois," Ford said.

The Thursday afternoon effort at Laramie Avenue and Lake Street brought together dozens of community based agencies, recovery groups, and health care providers who deliver harm reduction services by providing Narcan and fentanyl test strips.

"Fentanyl has become a big problem, because it's in everything," Leslie Givens said.

Along with the support and information, there was food and free haircuts.

Calvin Betts got a trim and some information about the dangers of overdosing.

"I'm very concerned about it," Betts said.

And, while Cook County and Illinois still see increases in opioid-related overdose fatalities, those at Thursday's event hope to not only make a difference, but save lives.