Burlington County officials will join with local advocates, residents, providers and families Thursday evening for a vigil memorializing county residents who have died as a result of substance use disorder.
The Night of Tribute & Support vigil is held annually on International Overdose Awareness Day to help eliminate stigma surrounding substance use disorder, remember those who lost their lives to the disease, and provide support to loved ones left behind.
“Substance use disorder has stolen the lives of hundreds of Burlington County residents of all ages, races and backgrounds. We gather to remember these victims and to show support to their loved ones and to those who are waging their own battles against the disease,” said Burlington County Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson. “We must continue to provide help and support to those who need it and continue to speak out and take action to eliminate stigma surrounding substance abuse and all mental illnesses.”
The vigil and remembrance ceremony will be held at 7 PM this Thursday, Aug. 31, at the Burlington County Amphitheater, 5 Pioneer Boulevard, Westampton. It is being organized by the Burlington County Coalition for Healthy Communities, Burlington County Department of Human Services, Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and the support group Shouting 4 Shelby.
This year marks the 6th year the Burlington County vigil has been held.
Joe Conlin, director of community relations for Prevention Plus of Burlington County, will serve as the Master of Ceremonies at the ceremony, and State Senator Troy Singleton, Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw and Colleen Howard, executive director of the support group, Rap Room 2P2, are among the scheduled speakers.
“It’s an honor to be part of the team that plans and organizes this event,” said Conlin.
The vigil will also feature musical performances and remembrances, including the reading of 150 names of loved ones lost.
The Burlington County Hope One Mobile Outreach Unit will also be present at the amphitheater along with information tables from more than a dozen support groups and providers, including Prevention Plus of Burlington County, Shouting 4 Shelby, Kings Crusade, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office, Marlton Elks, Aspire Youth Development, Contact of Burlington County, 1-800-Gambler, Center for Family Services, Narcotics Anonymous, and Britney’s Justice 4 Overdose Awareness
The Hope One unit is run by the Burlington County Sheriff’s Office in partnership with the Burlington County Department of Human Services and Burlington County Health Department. Virtua Health, Maryville and the Deborah Heart and Lung Center also contribute staff to the unit, which regularly travels to different communities in the county to help link residents with recovery specialists and treatment facilities. The unit also trains people on how to administer overdose antidote.
The creation of the Hope One unit is one of several actions the County has taken to assist residents suffering from substance use disorders and their families and loved ones.
Earlier this month, the Department of Human Services Behavioral Health and Addiction Services Division teamed with the Traumatic Loss Coalition and YMCA of the Pines in Medford to hold a free day-camp for children impacted by the substance use disorder.
Twenty children participated in the camp, called Camp Cardinal, which featured traditional outdoor camping activities such as shelter building, archery, canoeing, crafts and a ropes course, plus special group-led sessions focused on building resiliency to stress, anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
Burlington County is also distributing overdose emergency kits to high schools in Burlington County that requested them. The wall-mounted contain the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, commonly called Narcan.
Both the day camp and overdose emergency kits are part of the County’s comprehensive response to the opioid crisis and the County campaign to eliminate stigma surrounding substance use and mental health illnesses. By eliminating stigma, the County Commissioners hope to raise awareness and encourage more residents to seek the help and supports needed to overcome their conditions.
The Burlington County Commissioners passed a resolution declaring all of Burlington County to be stigma-free in 2021. Since then, numerous municipalities and school districts in the county have passed their own resolutions of support.
“We’ve continued to take action to provide new supports and dispel misconceptions about mental illness and substance abuse,” said Commissioner Deputy Director Tom Pullion. “Eliminating stigma is one of our Board’s most significant actions and we’re grateful for all who have partnered with us on this important campaign.”