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Coping with the Crisis: International Overdose Awareness Day

It has been over a year since the tragic death of Chef Swainson Brown and five others. They died after a night of working at a restaurant on the North Fork and ingesting fentanyl, which they had believed was recreational cocaine.

As a tribute to those who died that night as well as the thousands who die every year, Gina Kraus inspired the town of Shelter Island, the Shelter Island Health and Wellness Alliance, and the Shelter Island Library to commemorate those lives lost to overdoses. T

he event occurred on International Overdose Awareness Day, Aug. 31, 2021. It was a moving tribute to those who died and an attempt to educate our community to the dangers of drugs. 

 It is now a year later. Fentanyl continues to ravage communities and families, which is why it is so important to continue this work and make it an annual event.

According to the International Overdose Awareness website, International Overdose Awareness Day represents “the world’s annual campaign to end overdoses, remember without sigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends. 

On Shelter Island this year, it will be commemorated on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. on the basketball court with a Candlelight “Vigil of Hope.” The program will again have powerful speakers, music, and be a memorial to honor lives lost and the loved ones left behind. There will also be a strong message of support and hope for those who are struggling with substance abuse disorder. All are welcome. The event will occur rain or shine. 

Ms. Kraus has been an indefatigable promoter of overdose awareness in her work since the tragic death of her son Evan at age 36 in March 2020.

Recently retired as a school teacher on the South Fork, Ms.  Kraus volunteers at Seafield Treatment Center, The Sheriff’s Addiction Program at the Yaphank Correctional Facility and Phoenix House. Ms. Kraus says that this work brings her “happiness and heartbreak” as she shares her message of hope and support for those who are suffering with this disease.  

According to the Center for Disease Control, 107,375 people in the United States died of drug overdoses and drug poisonings in the 12-month period ending in January 2022. Unbelievably, 67% of these deaths involved synthetic opioids (of which fentanyl is the most common).

Merely two milligrams of this substance can be lethal, particularly for someone who does not have a tolerance (i.e., someone who takes it by mistake, thinking it is cocaine or something less deadly). For people who believe that such a tragedy cannot happen in their family, they should look to the victims’ families who once felt the same way.

There is never enough early education and treatment. This yearly event tries to reverse that sad fact. 

Save the date. Show your community that you care. Let’s remember the lives lost and work toward preventing future tragedies.