Camden vigil puts a human face on the rising death toll of addiction

People from around the region who have lost loved ones to addiction attended a candlelight vigil in Camden Saturday night to raise awareness of a disease claiming an increasing number of lives.

As dusk fell, the electric candles held by people in the baseball stadium under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge began to light up the stands.

The event’s lineup of speakers included Philadelphia Inquirer Columnist Mike Newall, whose recent columns have focused on the lives of people struggling with heroin addiction in Philadelphia’s Kensington neighborhood.

“We dispel stigma by telling stories,” Newall said. “And before long I realized I had to share my own family’s story.”

Newall read from a column he had written about his older brother, whom he lost to heroin addiction.

The Camden County vigil expanded this year to include sixteen other counties from the region, highlighting the rising death toll of the opioid epidemic. According to a recent report by the Philadelphia Inquirer, more than 1,300 people died of overdoses in the metro area during the first half of the year, a 50 percent increase compared to the same period last year.

The vigil put a human face on the statistics making those headlines. The names and photos of nearly 900 overdose victims were projected in a slideshow.

Many attendees came wearing customized t-shirts with their own tributes to their loved ones. Luann Parkin from Millville, New Jersey, wore one with a photo of her son, Nic Karisko.

“He was very happy and had a big smile and it’s my favorite picture,” Parkin said.

Karisko died in August at the age of 35. He and his girlfriend were both in recovery and had been expecting a baby.

“She relapsed out of nowhere and passed away with the baby,” Parkin said, her voice straining against tears. “And he relapsed after that, and just tried to recover but couldn’t.”

Holly Lozinak of King of Prussia hoped the event would help the public understand the scope of the opioid epidemic. She lost her son, Jakob two years ago to an addiction that started with a prescription for Percocet.

“It is such a big addiction and a big problem,” Lozinak said. “People are dying in crazy numbers.”

Lozinak hoped that more awareness would help prevent more lives from being lost to addiction.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.