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Memorials to Berkshire County residents lost to substance abuse. The images were displayed at Wednesday's Overdose Awareness Day event at Park Square.
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The event was organized by Living in Recovery.
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Community Honors Loved Ones on Overdose Awareness Day

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Berkshire County had 62 fatal overdoses last year, 33 occurring in Pittsfield.  

Community members marked National Overdose Awareness Day on Wednesday with a memorial at the Common and a vigil at Park Square.  

The event — organized by Living in Recovery — aimed to memorialize those who have lost their lives to overdose, bring light to an often stigmatized topic, and offer harm reduction and grief support resources.

Program Director Julie MacDonald said overdose rates continue to rise and emphasized the importance of breaking the stigma surrounding substance abuse. 

"There's still so much shame attached to this and so, therefore, our people in our community don't really get to grieve properly because of the shame and stigma," she said.

"And also that which we hide under the bushes, if the light cannot shine on it then it cannot be addressed, it cannot be changed. We can't take any action toward it if we're not willing to, so a big part of the awareness part of the day is to raise the awareness in the community about how we're all affected by this, and how impacted we are by it, and to remind them of that."

A procession was led from the Common to Park Square, where 62 signs were placed at the intersection of South, North, and West streets to represent those who lost their lives to an overdose in 2021.

MacDonald read the names of those whose families and friends wished to honor them and a battery-operated candle was placed next to each sign.

The display was a jarring physical representation of overdose deaths in the community. Since 2010, there have been 374 deaths from overdose in Berkshire County.

"We come together on this day with a range of emotions as deep and complex as those that we are remembering. Some here may have come feeling bruised by their loss and asking what you could have done to prevent it or what you could have done to lessen your loved one's pain and suffering. For some, there is an array of mixed emotions and the futile search to understand why their loved one suffered so here on the earth and why they were taken from this earth, snatched away in the brutal arms of addiction," MacDonald said.

"But let us remember that no matter how stalked they were by their own pain, their life also had many moments of delight and happiness, caring and friendship, sharing and love. They mattered in this lifetime and today we remind ourselves and our community of them. Today despite our pain, we stand together and we strive to find hope and healing knowing that their pain has ended."

One couple attended the event honoring their son Matthew, who passed away in 2015 on his 30th birthday. They also emphasized the need to destigmatize the topic and said there have been too many lives lost to overdoses.

"We spend every year trying to celebrate him," his mother said. "We celebrate 365 days a year but on this day, and of course on this birthday, with something special."

Larry Lake, chaplain for Hospice of Western and Central Massachusetts, spoke about grief.

"What you want to grieve with is the love you had for that person. To realize in your hearts, that they died knowing they were loved. They didn't die saying 'oh, if he only stayed a minute longer, I wouldn't have done this,' they died knowing that you love them and that's what you honor in your grief," he said.

"Because you need to be able to grieve fully and also live fully and if you're feeling guilt over the loss as if it were anything that you could have prevented, anything you could have cured, anything you could have stopped, that gets in the way of our living for."

Lake advised that a person does not move on from the loss, but carries the person's memory and love with them.

Living in Recovery — located at 81 Linden St. — is a peer-driven program created in 2018 in memory of Joseph R. Botz. 

MacDonald explained that the center offers support to those in recovery, those affected by people with substance use, or those who support the recovery lifestyle.  

"A big part of it is that socialization but also in working as a community and the peers leading it, the members leading it," she said.

"It's part more too of learning cooperation with others, how do we make joint decisions, and so it really sort of touches on every area of someone's life when they are in recovery and it helps to build that skill set."

Learn to Cope, a peer program-led support group for families struggling with another person's addiction; Support After a Death by Overdose (SADOD); and Berkshire Harm Reduction were present to provide resources at the event.

Tags: addiction recovery,   overdose,   substance abuse,   

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Pittsfield Superintendant Warns of Prohibited Toy Guns

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The district has been alerted of a concerning trend that is prohibited on school grounds: Orby or Orbeez gel guns.

The toy guns shoot gel or water beads and are said to pose a risk of physical harm and being mistaken for a real firearm. They are a violation of the Pittsfield Public School's code of conduct and could result in a suspension of 11 days or more.

"Though these may appear as simple toys, it's crucial to recognize the potential risks tied to their usage. By raising awareness, we aim to educate our community about the possible hazards associated with these items, emphasizing the importance of informed decision-making and responsible behavior," said Superintendent Joseph Curtis in a memo to the Pittsfield Public School community on Friday.

Last fall, someone used a similar gun to target cross-country students and a coach from Lee High. No one was injured in the incident. 

Given the frequency of school shootings nationwide, Curtis said schools cannot afford to accommodate anything that even remotely that resembles a firearm. The toy guns and gel beads are secured behind a locked case in Walmart on Hubbard Avenue, many indicating that they are for ages 14 and older.

"The Pittsfield Public Schools firmly maintains that Orby toy guns and any associated pellets should not be brought onto school premises, including both indoor and outdoor areas. This directive is in place to ensure the safety and well-being of all students, staff, and visitors within our educational environment," he wrote.

"We stress the significance of following this directive to prevent any potential hazards or disruptions that may arise from the presence of these items on school grounds. By upholding this standard, we aim to cultivate a secure and conducive learning environment for everyone within the Pittsfield community."

The superintendent listed three potential hazards of the water-bead guns in the schools:

  • Physical Injuries: The guns have the capacity to propel projectiles at considerable speeds, posing a risk of injury to the eyes, skin, and even teeth, particularly when fired in close proximity.
  • Misidentification Risks: Due to their realistic appearance, some Orby guns may be mistaken for genuine firearms. Such misidentification could result in confusion and potentially perilous encounters, especially if law enforcement or bystanders perceive them as real weapons.
  • Public Disruption: The act of firing Orby guns in public settings can be highly disruptive and alarming to others. Such behavior may instill fear and panic among individuals nearby, potentially leading to charges of disorderly conduct or harassment.
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