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Shelter Island Reporter editorial: Showing up

At last week’s Candlelight Vigil of Hope marking International Overdose Awareness Day the Shelter Island community paused to consider the human cost of addiction: https://shelterislandreporter.timesreview.com/2022/09/02/shelter-island-remembers-those-lost-to-addiction-continues-fight-against-substance-abuse/.

Part of the goal was to put before us lives taken too soon, and how people who have been left continue on and pledge to go into action to prevent more deaths.

Gina Kraus, speaking about her son Evan, who died two years ago said, “When you lose someone, especially a child, you’re broken,” adding, “I cling to hope. “Hope is what gets us through.”

The use of drugs is a complicated subject, touching on several aspects of society. There’s the legal system, involving the police, the courts and the prison system.

There’s the medical factor of addiction, and hospitals and treatment centers, and the debate on how best to treat those caught in cycles of dependency.

There’s the educational component, on how strategies are developed by the government, the schools and the media to produce clear, truthful information on what drugs are and what they do.

Often overlooked is, perhaps, the most important part of this structure — the human element, which the vigil last week put front and center. When word comes of overdose deaths, it’s easy to overlook those who have died if we don’t know the individuals.

But worse than overlooking them and not realizing they were part of our community, is to stereotype them, placing them in a category and ignoring the fact that they were very much like us.

The stereotyping becomes absurd when looking at addiction as an illness, since illness doesn’t spare anyone. Alcohol and drug dependency exists in every community, every economic class, every race and ethnic group.

These days — maybe always? — it’s rare to find a family who has not been affected by a loved one who is dependent on alcohol or drugs.

The crisis is not limited to where we live, but is everywhere. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths rose nearly 30% in the United States in 2021 compared to the year before.

There is work to be done on all levels of society — law enforcement, the court system, public health strategies, the media, government and education — to battle the forces that have ruined so many lives and brought sorrow and continuing grief to too many families.

A good start in that work is to see those caught in cycles of dependency, and those who have lost their lives as real, whole human beings, who have loved and been loved.

The vigil one evening last week was that good start, and all praise is due to the survivors, Town and school officials and community members who showed up and pledged their support.