At the end of the month, hundreds of white helium-filled balloons with shoes attached will soar through the air from Westlake Park. The planned display is part of an event organized by the group Voices of Community Activists and Leaders – Washington (VOCAL-WA) for International Overdose Awareness Day.
“When we see an empty pair of shoes it’s very easy to visualize the person who was standing in those shoes,” VOCAL-WA's Patricia Sully said.
She’s the coordinator for vocal-wa and an attorney at the Public Defender Association. VOCAL-WA is in the process of collecting 320 pairs of shoes for the event, one pair for each drug-related death in King County in 2015. According to a 2015 drug-trend report from the University of Washington, heroin was the most common drug found in overdose deaths in the last two years.
“Fatal overdose is increasingly common and often preventable,” Sully said. “Someone who dies of an overdose never has a chance to change, to have a different life. Overdose awareness and prevention is vital, and benefits everyone.”
Brad Finegood, assistant division director for King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, will speak at the event. For him, this is a professional and personal cause. Nearly 12 years ago, his brother Gregg died of an overdose. At the time, Finegood had already been working in the addiction field for several years.
“It really personalized it on the most deep level,” Finegood said. “My brother was my only sibling. Me and him were tied at the soul. When he died, it made it so that I wanted to do my work so that nobody else in this world would suffer the pain that myself and my family had to go through.”
Finegood said he wants to educate the community with this event.
“Treatment works and people do recover,” Finegood said. “Whether it’s abstinence-based treatment or medicine-assisted treatment. Whatever that looks like, many people in our community are in active recovery today.”
In addition to a candlelight vigil, there will be tables where experts will talk with people about addiction and overdosing.
Organizers also hope to eliminate the stigma surrounding opiate-use disorder.
“That stigma really keeps people isolated and increases the risk for dying makes them less likely to reach out for treatment,” said Caleb Banta-Green, a drug-abuse researcher at the University of Washington’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute. "Most people want help and most people cannot or don’t know how to access those services.”
International Overdose Awareness Day began in 2001. VOCAL-WA is collecting unwearable shoes for the event at 810 Third Ave., Suite 705 in Seattle. Wearable shoes will be donated to the Emma Goldman Youth Homeless Outreach project. For more information on opioid education, visit stopoverdose.org.
What: International Overdose Awareness Day
When: Aug. 31, 6 p.m.
Where: Westlake Park, 401 Pine St, Seattle
*This article has been updated with pictures from the event.