Governor Charlie Baker has declared Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in Massachusetts. The announcement was made during a memorial service at the Boston Common on Monday.
Baker delivered the physical proclamation to the mother of Courtney Gill, who recently died of an opioid overdose. He spoke with Cathy Gill and others who have been personally affected by overdose deaths before joining in planting purple flags on the Boston Common to commemorate the 20,000 lives lost to drug overdose in Massachusetts from 2011 to 2021.
Joining Baker at the memorial was Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders and Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Addiction Services Director Deirdre Calvert.
In Massachusetts, the number of opioid-related deaths from January 2022 to March 2022 is expected to be 551, according to the Department of Public Health. For the entire year of 2021, the number of deaths is reported to have risen to 2,290, an 8.8% increase from 2020.
In Baker’s proclamation, he writes that the “overdose epidemic continues to devastate our communities not only through the tremendous loss of life and associated trauma to families and loved ones, but also through a profound economic strain on individuals and families in health care costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice involvement.”
Cathy Gill, the mother of Courtney, says her daughter died of an accidental opioid overdose on April 1. “Our approach since Courtney's death has been to work to destigmatize. We were very open about her battle with addiction, about the cause of her death and how it has impacted our family.”
Gill says that her daughter was a talented, smart and athletic person who was on course for a career as a dental assistant.
“She was feeling good about herself. But the battle of addiction is one that, no matter how hard she worked, she just struggled. And she died one week short of her 30th birthday party," Gill said. "We had planned a family celebration. She had bought a new dress. She had told me the night before she died what cake she wanted.”
Calvert, of the Bureau of Substance Addiction Services, has been close friends with Gill and her family for decades.
“I'm in recovery. I've been in recovery for 11 years," Calvert said. "And we need to put a face to it that it's not just the people on Mass. and Cass — there's many, many, many of us. And they also deserve love, respect and attention just like anybody else.”
Justin Alves, a nurse at Boston Medical Center who works with patients with HIV, attended the memorial and says addiction is a disease that he constantly runs into in his work.
“I lose patients more often than I would like to admit to overdose," Alves said. "And I think being here is a simple way for me to, sort of, take a minute and remember all of those people that I've lost, especially this year and especially since the start of the pandemic.”
WATCH: Baker declares August 31 'Overdose Awareness Day,' marks lives lost