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UNT and City of Denton host events for International Overdose Awareness Day

UNT and City of Denton host events for International Overdose Awareness Day

UNT and City of Denton host events for International Overdose Awareness Day
September 01
11:23 2019

Volunteers from several UNT and North Texas organizations gathered in Denton for two events promoting International Overdose Awareness Day on Friday and Saturday, as part of a network of more than 700 registered IOAD events meant to draw attention toward preventing and treating drug overdoses.

Representatives from groups dealing with drug issues and mental health awareness greeted visitors at Friday’s event on the UNT Union’s south lawn with information and advice on handling dangerous scenarios involving drugs.

While much of the information presented at the events focused on fighting overdoses as they happen, multiple volunteers like Macy Faust, a student assistant for the Collegiate Recovery Program, stressed the importance of battling stigmas behind drug addictions and mental health issues.

“At the end of the day, no matter what you’re struggling with, we’re all just people.” Faust said.

Faust talked about the adoption of ‘person-first language,’ a way of speaking about drugs and mental health issues that aims to substitute terms like ‘addict’ with more humanizing vocabulary.

“It’s a term taught in a lot of the rehabilitation classes, a universal term to talk about the person and then their diagnoses or disability,” Faust said. “It’s a part of them, but it’s not what they are. You’d say, like ‘person with depression,’ [or] ‘person with substance use.’”

Scattered around the group tables were posters detailing the stories of several UNT students who died after drug overdoses. Staff members from UNT’s Substance Use Resource and Education Center laid out a blank banner and markers under their tent so visitors could write messages to those struggling with drug issues.

The next night, they brought the banner with them to Denton’s IOAD event.

Around 27 local and national groups assembled with resource tables and volunteers at the North Texas Overdose Awareness Day hosted at the Courthouse on the Square Saturday evening.

Mayor Pro-tem Gerard Hudspeth delivered a proclamation declaring August 31 Overdose Awareness Day in the city of Denton, kicking off a series of speakers which included overdose survivors and educational talks and stories of overdose victims and their families.

Throughout the speeches, a volunteer from Win the Fight, a drug awareness support group, would ring a bell to signify one life lost to an overdose, which occurs once every seven minutes, on average.

Around 25 minutes into the speeches, Kyle Shaw, a criminal defense attorney from Collin County, took to the podium to recount his son Ian’s fatal experience with drug abuse. Shaw said he discovered his son’s drug usage when Ian was 17 and what started out as using only marijuana became an addiction to other medications like Xanax and then heroin.

“We put him into drug treatment, and he seemed to work the program like he was supposed to,” Shaw said. “[He] came out. I thought, ‘alright, we got this thing licked.’ Sadly, it was real short lived, and the addiction came back with a vengeance.”

Shaw’s son left home and contact between the two faded. Ian survived an overdose incident and was arrested sometime  later, but released on mental health bond, Shaw said.

A day later, Shaw and his family received a phone call from a hospital letting them know Ian had overdosed again.

“By the time we got there, Ian had died,” Shaw said. “I can tell you, there’s no worse thing your eyes can ever behold than your child laying on a stainless-steel table in a hospital, dead of an overdose. I know that’s graphic, I’m sorry. But maybe this will help somebody. I don’t know.“

The bell rang again.

Many of the groups represented at the campus event also appeared at the downtown event, including SURE Center Graduate Assistant David Robinson and SURE Center Coordinator Tim Trail, who together demonstrated techniques to administer Narcan, a drug for treating overdoses.

A representative from Reacting to Opioid Overdose sat at a nearby table handing out free dosages of Narcan, which must be injected through the nostrils of an overdose victim.

Texas law prohibits any prosecutions against people carrying or administering Narcan to another person, even if the individual is not overdosing.

Denton city council member Paul Meltzer delivered words of appreciation for IOAD toward the conclusion of the program. He was joined by several other Denton city officials, including two judges and Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon, who spoke about his department’s efforts to address drug issues.

The event ended with a prayer from a Methodist minister as volunteers handed glowsticks to attendees, which illuminated the courthouse lawn with purple lights, a color used in remembrance of overdose victims.

A wall featuring images and stories of local overdose victims sat at the edge of the event area, drawing a small crowd once the speakers finished up.

Holden Stucky’s smiling face adorned a sign adjacent to the wall, with a paragraph detailing his story underneath a collage of photos. Holden attended UNT as a philosophy student until his junior year in 2017, when he died of a opioid overdose at age 24.

Stucky’s father Alan, the UNT System’s senior associate general counsel, talked softly with attendees around informational tables before the event started.

“I hope events like this keep somebody else from going through what our family is going through,” Stucky said.

Stucky said he noticed awareness of opioid addiction rising around the time of his son’s death, but his family knew little information about prescription drug addiction beforehand.

After two years of mourning, Holden’s father still feels the effects of losing a son.

“It’s been too fresh for me to just deal with,” Stucky said.

Featured ImageKeri Jenkins holds up a purple glow stick while closing her eyes during the lighting ceremony at the North Texas Overdose Awareness event on Aug. 31, 2019. Image by Isabel Anes

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Carter Mize

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