Community members gathered in Kensington Wednesday night to remember those who have died as a result of drug overdoses.
Nearly 100 people at McPherson Square lit candles and read the names of deceased loved ones to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.
While remembering those who’ve lost their lives, people hugged neighbors and loved ones in an attempt to heal the wounds still lingering from the ongoing opioid epidemic.
In Pennsylvania, it’s estimated more than 5,200 people suffered accidental fatal overdoses last year.
Nicole Bixler is the President of Operation In My Backyard, an organization advocating for harm reduction which includes practices aiming to minimize negative health impacts associated with drug use.
She says the group has lost six loved ones within the past year and events like this could help break the stigmas associated with suffering from drug addiction.
“Events like this raise awareness, but they also bring like-minded people together, and maybe people will be curious and say, “Oh, you know, what is everybody walking down the street with signs for? What’s going on in the park? Everybody is touched by this and just getting them to feel a little bit more comfortable like they don’t have to shun the group of people that are using, I think is like the first start,” Bixler said.
Prevention Point Philadelphia Executive Director José Benitez says Kensington has long been ignored by the city, but seeing the amount of people turnout for the memorial shows how united the community is in combating the crisis.
“We all are in the struggle together, whatever that is,” Benitez said. “Some people on the treatment side and have been in treatment for a while. Some people are struggling today, and sort of like bringing all of that together is powerful hope.”
Unintentional drug overdoses have increased sharply since the pandemic started in Philadelphia, with fentanyl being the main drug involved.