By Kelcey Norris
“Light Up the Night” allowed Youngstown residents to place luminaries along the sidewalks and steps at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown in recognition of International Overdose Day and overdose victims in Mahoning County.
The event was organized by OhioCAN Mahoning County, which aims to bring awareness to lives lost in heroine and drug overdoses and give people naloxone training.
The organization assembles care packages for individuals in recovery programs, including personal hygiene items and notes of encouragement.
Hope Lovrinoff-Moran, director of OhioCAN Mahoning County, said honoring the lives lost to overdoses in Mahoning County is the primary goal.
“We light a luminary and hang each one with a tag that says the name, age and the overdose date of each person,” she said. “We want to remember the victims while supporting their loved ones left behind.”
The evening began with naloxone training led by representatives of the Mahoning County District Board of Health.
“We are very focused on harm reduction. We want to provide education for the greater community and having a free, public naloxone training is a great way to do this,” Lovrinoff-Moran said.
Erica Horner, director of nursing and community health at the Mahoning County District Board of Health, said the naloxone training, called Project DAWN, includes a kit containing naloxone nasal spray with instructions, medical gloves and follow-up information.
“Project DAWN is a Narcan medication kit that is funded through the Ohio Department of Health,” she said. “Anyone can request a kit and free education on the program.”
According to Horner, the program allows citizens to potentially save the life of someone experiencing an overdose.
“The program has grown every year since 2015 when we started with the Mental Health and Recovery Board of Mahoning County,” Horner said. “The first year, we only distributed seven kits, and in 2019 we have given out 192 so far.”
Horner said informing other community members of the program’s benefits may help save a life in the future.
“Tell your friends, family, peers and community about the free program,” Horner said. “Whether you know someone or not who may be impacted by opiods, you want to have one in case you are ever a witness to that situation.”
Anthony Bell, a member of the Mahoning Valley community, attended the event in recognition of the opioid problem in the community.
“I came to the event because I’m staying at a sober living house, a red zone, and we came for the Narcan kits, so we can have that just to be safe,” Bell said. “We can make sure that if something happens, that we have that backup to bring a life back.”
Several speakers took the stage to share their experiences with substance abuse disorders.
Lovrinoff-Moran said the speakers at “Light Up the Night” were present to bring inspiring messages to the community, such as the one given by Bishop Joseph G. McNeal, an ordained minister, spiritual wellness coach and drug rehabilitation activist in the Valley.
“Our very dynamic keynote speaker Bishop McNeal, who overcame great trauma in his life, brought a message of inspiration and how our mindsets need to change in the area of addiction,” Lovrinoff-Moran said.
McNeal is a prevention specialist for the Youngstown Urban Minority Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Outreach Program, and he used his own experience with substance abuse to bolster his message.
“I didn’t struggle with drugs,” he said. “I was very good at drugs, but I wasn’t good at the consequences of drugs. I wanted peace of mind, and if I could have had the peace of mind those substances brought but without the consequences, I would still get high.”
Lovrinoff-Moran said participants held candles, lit the luminaries after sunset and read the names of all the victims of substance abuse disorders and overdoses in the community this year.
“I always ask my team: ‘What is our goal?’” Lovrinoff-Moran said. “And my goal is to save lives and end overdose deaths. Most people would agree this is a great goal, but we need more people to support the use of the tools at our disposal.”