Event planned to remember overdose victims, families

Westbrook will host an overdose awareness event on Aug. 31 from 5-7 p.m. at Riverbank Park.

WESTBROOK — The city will memorialize residents who have died from drug overdoses and offering support to their families at an event next week. 

The Westbrook Police Department on Thursday, Aug. 31, will host an overdose awareness event from 5-7 p.m. at Riverbank Park. It will be held on International Overdose Awareness Day, which has been recognized since 2001.

It’s the first time Westbrook has hosted the event, said Shelby Briggs, coordinator of the city’s Community Approach to Stopping Heroin, or CASH.

“Due to the increase in the number of fatal overdoses we see in Maine, we wanted to do something here in Westbrook,” she said. “We wanted to make it a local community event.”

Portland will also host an event on Aug. 31 at Monument Square starting at 7 p.m.

Briggs said she was uncertain of how many overdose calls the police and rescue units respond to in Westbrook in any given month, but said there have been fatal overdoses in the past year.

“Westbrook is comparable to what all of Maine is experiencing,” she said. “It’s definitely been increasing.”

The CASH coordinator position was created in July 2016, with Briggs being the first person to hold it. Over the past year she’s worked to create new programs for those with addictions and their families.

The Aug. 31 event will feature a group of speakers including Sgt. Matt Baker of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office, whose 23-year-old daughter died from a heroin overdose in February 2015. Kris Goodwin, whose brother died from an overdose, will speak about her personal experience as well as her work with the organization Out of the Shadows.

Other speakers include Westbrook Police Chief Janine Roberts, individuals in recovery for substance use disorders, and people who have lost family members to addiction.

Briggs said that because “overdose loss is different than other types of loss,” people don’t always know how to react. When people die naturally, from disease or in an accident such as a car crash, other people often know how to properly offer condolences, but with overdoses, Briggs said, people tread more lightly.

“When it comes to overdose loss people don’t know how to express support,” she said. “It’s not that people don’t care.”

Briggs said she hopes the event offers comfort to people whose family members have died from overdoses.

“I hope the people who have been affected by loss will take away a feeling of community support,” she said. 

She hopes the event will educate people about the effects of substance use disorders, Briggs said. 

“I hope the people who are there because they care feel empowered to talk about this more and raise awareness,” she said.

People at the event will have the opportunity to sign up to volunteer for some of the programs offered in Westbrook that help people affected by substance use disorder. There will also be resources available for people who are suffering.

The event will end with a walk to the gazebo across from the Walker Memorial Library. The gazebo will be dedicated to people who have died from overdoses, people who are struggling or in recovery, and to the families of these people.

“We’ll be memorializing those who have been lost,” Briggs said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Westbrook will host an overdose awareness event on Aug. 31 from 5-7 p.m. at Riverbank Park.