‘The gateway drug is trauma.' In Concord, a crowd gathers to mark Overdose Awareness Day and call for change.
Louise Martel traveled from Berlin to stand outside the State House on Wednesday evening. She held a poster with photos of her niece, Chloe, who died of an overdose earlier this year at age 22.
“We gotta let people know that she lived and she made a difference in this world,” Martel said. “And she made a difference to her family and her friends.”
Martel was one of more than 50 people who gathered in front of the state capitol in Concord for a rally and vigil on International Overdose Awareness Day.
Overdoses killed more than 100,000 people in the U.S. last year and more than 400 in New Hampshire, according to the CDC.
On Wednesday, under a tent in one corner of the plaza, rows of black-and-white portraits fluttered in the breeze. They memorialized people like Oliver — Teri Gladstone’s 18-year-old grandson, who she said died on New Year’s Eve 2020 after taking a pill that turned out to be laced with fentanyl.
Gladstone helped organize the event. She hoped it would offer resources to people struggling with addiction, comfort grieving family members and reduce stigma against people who use drugs.
People “think of them as disposable sometimes, and they need to know that there's a lot more to it than that,” she said.
Gladstone and other speakers talked about their lost loved ones, and the harmful effects of stigma.
Jodi Newell lost her fiancé, Kory, to an overdose some 14 years ago. She said she worked to make sure their children knew what he was like — that he was kind and gentle, and loved them.
“I knew that stigma would someday eventually reach them,” said Newell, who has since advocated for better substance use treatment and services, and is now running for state representative in Keene. “And my best effort was to preempt it, to define their father on my own terms, before the world had a chance to.”
Newell and others called on elected officials to strengthen treatment options, support harm-reduction programs and shift away from punitive approaches. They said more can be done to prevent overdose deaths and improve the health of people who use drugs.
“I think the biggest overdose-prevention tool is housing,” said Liz Beaule, a care coordinator for the New Hampshire Harm Reduction Coalition, noting that the stress of homelessness can fuel substance use.
One of Beaule’s colleagues, Haley Brown, stood at a table with fentanyl test strips, the overdose-treatment drug Narcan and cards with safety tips.
“You can always take steps to make your drug use safer, even if you aren’t ready to be abstinent,” they said. “And we are here to meet you wherever you are.”
Brown hoped the event would be a reminder “that the people lost to overdose are loved and celebrated and missed, and that the people who are still here deserve every effort to keep them here.”
As the event ended, participants lit candles and held a moment of silence.
At least one state lawmaker was present, Rep. Maria Perez of Milford. She said she came out to help change views around addiction, particularly in communities of color.
“It is a stigma, especially in the Black and brown communities, and I want to be involved,” she said, adding that the community should “know that it is OK to talk about it. It is critical for us to be vulnerable.”
Breaking down stigma is also important to Brian Harlow of Concord, who has a loved one struggling with addiction.
“The gateway drug is trauma,” he said. “You know, we just need to realize that trauma’s what's fueling this. And lack of compassion, lack of connectedness, is what's keeping it alive.”