CAIRO — Families and friends who lost loved ones to opioid overdoses gathered Thursday to remember and honor them with a memorial tree planting.
The state Department of Health designated Sept. 9 as New York State Opioid Overdose Awareness Day, and Greene County followed suit with a ceremony of its own.
A non-fruit-bearing weeping cherry tree was planted outside the Greene County Mental Health Center adjacent to Angelo Canna Town Park in Cairo.
“We wanted to have this tree of remembrance and be able to have this ceremony today to acknowledge people that have been touched or lost by overdose and have been affected by substance-use disorders in general,” Jason Fredenberg, county director of community services and mental health, told the crowd.
A plaque at the foot of the tree bears the inscription: “Planted and Dedicated in Honor and Remembrance, Greene County Overdose Awareness Day 2021.”
A long white banner sat on three tables adorned with photos of individuals lost to overdoses, with messages written by their loved ones. Purple ribbons signifying opioid overdose awareness were pinned to the banner.
“My hope in having this event is not only to honor and remember those who lost somebody — we have all lost somebody — but that some of you may find comfort and support in meeting each other and exchanging phone numbers or just sharing your stories,” Francesca Daisernia, program director for the Greene County Community Services Board Opiate Overdose Prevention Program. “There’s a lot of comfort in that.”
Sharing experiences with addiction and loss can be therapeutic, she added.
“Others who have walked the same path know your pain and carry the same grief,” Daisernia said.
The tree will bring comfort for many years to come, Daisernia said.
“It’s been planted to dedicate to those we remember tonight,” she said. “My hope is that maybe you walk through the park and you will stop by and remember a loved one, or drive by and sit and remember them.”
Greene County Legislator Patty Handel, R-Durham, chairwoman of the Legislature’s Health Services Committee, read a proclamation marking September as National Recovery Month in Greene County. Thursday was also a national day of recognition.
“September 9 has been designated National Opioid Overdose Awareness Day to honor and reflect on people who have died of overdoses and to celebrate people who dedicate themselves to saving lives,” Handel said.
Many families have been impacted by the opioid epidemic in one form or another, Handel said.
“I am here because, like all of you, my life has also been touched by people who lost their lives to overdose and addiction,” Handel said.
There is a stigma to overdose deaths, and Handel said society needs to move beyond that perception.
Greene County has been hard hit by opioid use, with the number of overdose fatalities in the county on the rise in recent years, Fredenberg told the Greene County Legislature last week.
“In 2019, there were nine, in 2020 there were 14, and in 2021, as of July 31, we were already up to 11, so that number is increasing each year,” Fredenberg said.
The number of overdoses, fatal and nonfatal, has also increased.
According to a recent study, the number of opioid overdoses, nonfatal emergency room visits and opioid abuse and dependence was 33% higher in Greene County than the rest of the Capital Region, and 45% higher than the state as a whole, Fredenberg told the Legislature.