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Fifth annual Carroll County Overdose Vigil a tradition of healing from grief

Fifth annual Carroll County Overdose Vigil a tradition of healing from grief
Carroll County States Attorney Brian DeLeonardo speaks during the 4th Annual Drug Overdose and Prevention Vigil at Carroll Community College in Westminster Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Tuesday evening will bring the fifth annual Carroll County Drug Overdose and Prevention Vigil, a new tradition that has become a ritual of healing for many people touched by in one way or another by addiction.

People like Carroll County Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4.

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“The first year I went to it it was when my daughter was suffering from the epidemic, and I lived with the fear of losing her,” Bouchat said. “Then the following year I was a speaker because I had lost my daughter, so now it is part of ritual every year to go back and remember my daughter and all the other people who have lost loved ones and are suffering. It is a ritual thing for us. It’s a pain that never goes away.”

This year’s event will run from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Scott Center Auditorium at Carroll Community College, and as in years past will feature the names of people who have been lost to an opioid drug overdose and a candlelight vigil. New this year will be a keynote address by Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

"Our administration has been laser-focused on addressing the opioid epidemic in Maryland, but partnership with local jurisdictions is key,” Rutherford is quoted as saying in a media release. “It will take all of us, at all levels of government, working together to solve this problem and save the lives of our fellow Marylanders."

But the vigil is about more than combating addiction, according to State’s Attorney Brian DeLeonardo. Reflecting on starting the vigil when he came into office, he noted that he wanted to go beyond the statistics and focus on the people, not the numbers.

“We have vigils for those that die from impaired driving, who die from violent crime, but there was really nothing to recognized people who die from a drug overdose,” he said. “It was a way to say, ‘your loved ones matter.’”

Still, uncertain how the community would respond to a new event, DeLeonardo said he was prepared to declare the first vigil, held at the St. John Portico, a success if 100 people attended.

“I think the first night we wound up having over 300,” he said. “It tapped into something, it’s sort of taken a life of its own. It has become that special, at least one time a year, where you stop and say, there is a human toll to what’s taken place.”

Everyone is welcome at the free event, whether they have lost someone, are in recovery or are still battling an addiction, DeLeonardo said.

And while it is a memorial, the vigil is not just about loss, according to Linda Auerback, substance use prevention supervisor at the Carroll County Health Department.

“It’s a way that people can share their grief, but there is also an element of hope because you have people there in recovery who will be speaking,” she said. “There were probably 500 people there last year and it is so powerful to see when the lights go out and all the candles there. It hits you — you are not alone.”

Going forward, the hope is always that there are less new names to be remembered each year, DeLeonardo said, but there will always be a need for this kind of ceremony.

“There reality is even if we were to stop the opiate overdoses tomorrow, a prevention message will always be important,” he said. “And the fact is we will be recognizing those who we lost along the way.”

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