HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. This morning at the State Capitol, families and advocates shared laughter, tears, and stories of loved-ones who’ve lost their lives as the result of an overdose. 

Hundreds of pictures and cherished items lined the stairs outside the Capitol. The displays of remembrance were placed by dozens of families and friends who showed up to honor the lives lost to a drug overdose. 

“It was four years ago today, right about now, that Thomas took his last breath in his recovery home in Pittsburgh,” said Kathy Strain who lost her son, Thomas, on this date in 2018.  

Kathy, and dozens of others shared memories, stories and spoke about the pain that comes with losing a relative, especially a son or daughter. They’re hoping today’s message to reduce stigma and raise awareness will resonate beyond the Capitol steps. 

“And too often we hear, why did you allow that to happen? Or you're an enabler, or all these horrible things that are said to family members,” said Strain. “We need to just come together as families and try and make that change and be the rainbow in somebody else's cloud,” she added. 

This year's International Overdose Awareness Day comes at a critical time as the country struggles to control an epidemic exacerbated and often overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“A crisis of equal concern was lurking in the shadows as it continued to sweep the nation and steal lives at near record-breaking levels,” said Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith. 

In 2021, fatal overdoses in the United States surpassed 100,000 for the first time. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, preliminary numbers show there have been 5,331 drug overdose deaths reported in Pennsylvania for 2021, which marks a substantial increase from recent years. It currently ranks second only to 2017, in which there were 5,403 overdose deaths. 

“The addiction crisis has had devastating impacts for individuals and families across Pennsylvania over the last several years and coming together to honor the lives of those we lost is one way to affirm our support to each other and for individuals who are on their recovery journey,” said Smith, who reminded that substance use disorders have no boundaries. 

“The photos, shoes and cherished possessions on the steps of this Capitol building represent people from all walks of life,” said Smith. 

In addition to raising awareness and reducing stigma, advocates say everybody should be equipped with tools, like naloxone, because you never know when you may need to save the life of a stranger or even a family member. 

Individuals looking for substance use disorder treatment options or resources for themselves can call DDAP’s Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).