By the time Thursday’s simultaneous candlelight vigils in Abbeville and Greenwood ended, three Americans died from an opioid overdose.
People like Brooke Terry, a 23-year-old Greenwood mother who died on Nov. 18, 2018.
Or Brandon Wood of Ninety Six, who was 21 when he lost his fight to opioids, three days after being a groomsman at his brother Stephen’s wedding.
“She had been clean for over 100 days and was here 9 days when she died,” Terry’s mother, Linda Ward of Greenwood, said. “Like my son said, it’s like a hand grenade went off, and we’ve all been hit with the shrapnel."
Since Aug. 31, 2018, Abbeville and Greenwood counties lost 18 people to overdoses. Thursday’s dusk remembrances, sponsored by the Greenwood Abbeville Coalition and Cornerstone, sought to brush away the stigma that caregivers, survivors and family members of those lost to addition say hampers many from seeking treatment from the start.
Kayla Livingston, a member of the coalition and counselor at Cornerstone, said the gesture of solidarity serves a reminder of all the faces behind national statistics on overdoses – although the numbers are disturbing.
A 2016 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in 2016, 1 out of every 5 deaths among young adults were opioid related: A $500 billion problem, per statistics from the Council of Economic Advisers to the President.
“People with addiction are human beings. They’re not always homeless, they’re not always poor. They may come from a wealthy family. They may have a good job. They may be young, they be older. They are people just like you and me,” Livingston said. “They are somebody’s loved one. Drug addiction does not discriminate, and nobody is immune to it.”
Shortly after his brother died, Stephen Wood penned an emotional tribute to him on Facebook that was shared more than 11,000 times and brought words of support from people around the world whose lives had been impacted by addiction.
Since his little brother’s death, Wood has become an advocate for recovery, and spoke Thursday about the need for programs such as those offered by Cornerstone.
“The problem they face today is the stigma society has on addicts. Because of this stigma, someone who is seeking help may decide not to seek treatment. Going to get treatment for their addiction will label them as an addict to the outside world, and they will be seen as weak, having no willpower and so on,” Wood said.
Wood said the death of his brother led him to reflect on how others battling addiction should be treated.
“You can offer compassion and support, display kindness to people in vulnerable situations, you can listen while withholding judgment,” he said. “See the person for who they are, not the drugs they use.”