Community members come together to remember friends and loved ones during the Drug Overdose and Prevention Vigil at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster Thursday, March 10.
A table in the front of St. John's Portico at St. John's Catholic Church held pictures of smiling faces of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, Eagle Scouts and honor students. The one thing they all had in common is that they were victims of a drug overdose.
The Carroll County State's Attorney's Office held its second annual Drug Overdose and Prevention Vigil at the church on Thursday at 7 p.m. to honor those who lost their lives to their battles with addiction and to spread a message about prevention in the hopes there will be fewer new people to remember next year.
By the time the vigil started there were no empty seats, with people lining the back and sides of the Portico. The vigil started out with a slideshow of those who died of an overdose. The last name was a 29-year-old man who died about a month ago, State's Attorney Brian DeLeonardo said as he started the introduction.
"It's just an incredibly moving thing. You have people come in and bare their souls about their addiction and the trauma they've gone through," DeLeonardo said after the vigil.
The idea that addiction can happen to anyone was one of the messages at the vigil. To prove the point, Commissioner Dennis Frazier and WBAL sportscaster Keith Mills both addressed the large audience.
One of Frazier's family members is a recovering addict, he said. Frazier recounted how he could not believe it when both a friend and an ex-girlfriend of the family member told him that there was a drug problem.
"I remember thinking, 'why are you telling me this?'" he said. "It can't be true."
Mills, a recovering prescription pill addict, also spoke about how anyone can become addicted.
"I'm the face of a drug addict," Mills said.
Mills was not alone. There were four other people who spoke about their own personal struggles with drug addiction, and the parents of an overdose victim also told the story of their son.
At the end of the vigil, the names of people who died of an overdose were called and their families had the ability to light a candle in remembrance. After each name was read the family would stand up and light their candle from a candle held by one of five law enforcement officials.
They would then stand in a line on the sides of the Portico. By the time the last candle was lit, the line stretched around the room.
While honoring the memories of overdose victims was one of the key themes of the vigil, the other was one of prevention.
"We need to put up on billboards: 'Do not do opioids.' It could be a death sentence," Mills said.
This year the vigil featured a video made for the Special Opiate Prevention Teen Support program that is used in county schools. Tim Weber, drug education and treatment liaison to the State's Attorney's Office, and former student Brittany Sabok, both of whom are in recovery for heroin addiction shared their stories about their addictions and their recoveries at the vigil. The two have spoke at the county high schools to try to get more resources out to kids who may already be addicted and prevent those who have not started.
Weber and Sabok faced heroin addictions, starting with drugs that they took in high school. Sabok said she was addicted to heroin between the ages of 17 and 23. Weber was introduced to heroin in college after marijuana and alcohol usage, he said.
"I tell the kids when I go to school, everyone is going to try drinking, to smoking weed, and they [might not] be like me. But I'm an addict. Once I put something in me, I can't stop," Sabok said.
The program also featured a video that is showed to the schools. In the video, Carroll County resident Beth Schmidt, joined by her two sons, tells the story of her eldest son who overdosed on heroin.
Schmidt started a nonprofit and has spoken to multiple schools, in addition to the video, about heroin addiction.
"I just think that it's important to let people know that you don't just come out and get the message out once," Schmidt said after the vigil.