ANDERSON — Elliot Hughes was slow to speak at first, acknowledging that he wasn’t expecting to see around 100 people at first International Overdose Awareness Day event in Anderson.

Hughes, who is in recovery from heroin addiction, told his story to the crowd. He spoke of how he has sought treatment 14 times and how he isn’t sure how many times he has been revived by naloxone while overdosing, because he has lost count.

His best friend died from an overdose almost two years ago. Hughes said he couldn’t have imagined being the director of the Indiana chapter of Steered Straight Inc., when he went into recovery 10 months ago.

“We all have to fight for those we have lost,” Hughes said in a call to action to addicts and community members alike. “We have to fight for those who are struggling. We have to fight for each other.”

Hughes was one of three speakers at Anderson’s International Overdose Awareness Day event that was put on by Jessie Slaven, recovery coach at Aspire Indiana. The hall at the Anderson Firefighters Local 1262 was packed.

The program ended with all of the attendees going outside to watch those who have had loved ones die of overdose release a balloon for each victim.

Prior to the balloon release, Slaven asked those who are in recovery to stand to be recognized if they felt comfortable enough to do so. Dozens of people stood without hesitation.

The purpose of the event was to educate people about overdoses as a whole. Slaven shared factors that increase the risk of overdose and what people can do to help someone they think might be having an overdose.

Much of the conversation revolved around opioids, which are currently the most prevalent as far as lives lost in the community. Opioids include heroin and prescription painkillers, such as codeine, fentanyl and hydrocodone.

Many opioid drug users mix heroin with other medications, or sometimes the drugs are bought that way without the user even knowing. Mixing opioids is a common way that people end up overdosing, Slaven said, as well as mixing opioids and alcohol.

The risk of overdose also increases when someone in recovery relapses, because the user might think they need the same dose they had when they were using regularly, Slaven said. That’s not the case because breaks in using cause the user’s tolerance against the drug to drop.

Slaven also told people about how to obtain naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan, which is an opiate overdose reversal drug. Naloxone is sold over the counter at CVS Pharmacy for $109 and at Walgreens for $136, Slaven said.

She suggested that people who buy naloxone should read the instructions upon buying it since it needs to be administered quickly when it is needed. However, she explained how the drug is typically administered, which is through a nasal atomizer.

Once the education portion of the event was over, speakers who have experienced hardship from addiction spoke.

Mary Randol spoke about her son, Dustin, who died of an overdose about a year and a half ago at the age of 27. She said she knew he was using pills, but she had no idea he was using heroin.

Randol said she kicked her son out of her home about five months before he died because he had been stealing from the family to buy drugs.

“I thought (addicts) had a choice,” she said, speaking through tears. “I thought they had control.”

She said she has since learned that addiction is a disease. She said she went to a Heroin Anonymous meeting and hasn’t stopped going because it helps her understand addiction so much more.

When Hughes spoke, he also said addiction is a disease, but added that it doesn’t matter if people believe that or not. It only matters that they help and still see addicts as the humans they are. With that, he gave a message: “We will continue to keep losing people if we keep pointing the finger and saying ‘junkie,’ ‘scumbag,’ whatever, because that’s not who I am and that’s not what people in recovery are. It doesn’t define who you are.”

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