Clean materials available for drug users in the mock safe consumption site May 2 on the Ithaca Commons. Kelsey O'Connor/Ithaca Voice

The following is a republished press release and is NOT written by The Ithaca Voice. To submit community announcements directly to The Ithaca Voice, email tips@ithacavoice.com.

ITHACA, N.Y. — In response to New York State’s accelerating overdose epidemic, the Ithaca Plan is holding a public educational event about overdose and calling for life-saving approaches that prioritize public health. The event will also focus on remembering those who have lost their lives to overdose. Additionally, attendees will be trained in the use of and given their own Narcan kits. Narcan, also known as naloxone, is an overdose reversal drug that is available over the counter.

The community forum is part of coordinated public education events that will take place around the world for International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The Ithaca Community Forum will take place from 4:30-6:30 pm on August 31st, 2017, at The Space @ GreenStar on 700 W. Buffalo Street.  It will include an educational presentation, two panels, remembrance, and Narcan training. Featured speakers will include Judge John C. Rowley, Family and County Court in Tompkins County; Gwen Wilkinson, Interim Drug Policy Coordinator, City of Ithaca, and former District Attorney of Tompkins County; Katharine Celentano, Policy Coordinator, Drug Policy Alliance; Brian Briggs, Senior Peer at the Southern Tier AIDS Program; Phoebe Brown, Assistant Coordinator at the Ultimate Reentry Opportunity at the Multicultural Resource Center; Fabina Colon, Director of the Multicultural Resource Center; Veronica Dedrick, Social Worker at Cayuga Medical Center; Will Fox, paramedic at Bangs Ambulance; Dr. William Klepak, Medical Director of Tompkins County Health Department; Dr. Heather MacAdam, Cayuga Addictions Recovery Services; Michele McElroy, Deputy Executive Director of the Southern Tier AIDS Program; Angela Sullivan, Executive Director of the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County; Justine Waldman, contracted service provider at the Southern Tier AIDS Program and emergency room physician; and Lieutenant Jacob Young, Ithaca Police Department.

The increasing toll of overdose in New York underscores the urgent need for communities to learn how to prevent and reverse overdoses and for smart policy approaches that preserve human life. Nationally, there were 500,000 opioid-related deaths between 2000 and 2015. In 2015 alone, opioid and heroin overdoses killed 52,404 people–more people than traffic accidents and homicides combined.

Mirroring the national trend, in New York State, deaths from drug overdoses increased 71 percent between 2010 and 2015, emergency departments saw 37,347 opioid-related outpatient visits (a 73.1% increase from 2010) and 75,110 opioid-related inpatient hospital admissions (a 3% increase from 2010) in 2014.

“We must act as a supportive community to save the lives of the people who still live with addiction, and we must remember those who have died from overdose, in all of their humanity. Saving lives requires cutting through the stigma and sense of isolation felt by people who live with addiction,” said John C. Rowley, Judge of Family and County Court in Tompkins County. “On this International Overdose Awareness Day, Ithacans join with thousands of people from across the world to save lives and honor the humanity of our neighbors.”

“As a career prosecutor, I know we cannot arrest our way out of fatal overdose. The overdose crisis is a public health crisis, and as such, it has a public health solution,” said Gwen Wilkinson, Interim Drug Policy Coordinator for the City of Ithaca and former District Attorney of Tompkins County. “I know that empowered with Narcan and accurate information about overdose, Ithacans will save lives. This event will equip the community with the information they need to understand and respond to overdose in a way that prioritizes, values, and preserves human life.”

“As someone who has lost friends to fatal overdose, I believe in our community’s ability to learn and do what is necessary to save human life,” said Katharine Celentano, Policy Coordinator with the New York Office of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The memories of those we have lost call us to choose hope over despair. We can prevent overdose, full stop, and events like this will empower Ithacans to do just that. I am excited to share life-saving information with our community and for attendees to become Narcan-carrying everyday life-saving heroes.”

Featured image: Clean materials available for drug users in the mock safe consumption site May 2 on the Ithaca Commons. Photo by  Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice