CORRECTION: Randy Roland, 32, died in 2016 of an overdose of heroin/fentanyl. An earlier version of this story misstated Roland's cause of death.
Denton residents and families gathered at the south lawn of the Courthouse on the Square Saturday evening to reflect on the impacts of drug addiction and overdose at the second annual North Texas Overdose Awareness Day.
Held in conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day, the event aims to educate and provide resources to the local community, including those struggling with addiction. Featured Saturday were guest speakers, educational materials and a demonstration on how to properly administer Narcan (naloxone), which is used to completely or partially reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Crossroads resident Sharon Roland, 65, said she organized the event with the help of her two children Sarah and George, and her daughter-in-law Rachel, after her son Randy, 32, died in 2016 due to an overdose of heroin/fentanyl. In addition to resources, Sharon said, a component of Saturday’s event aims to reduce stigmatizations associated with drug use and overdose — which begins with conversation.
Councilman Gerard Hudspeth, a guest speaker at Saturday’s event, delivered a signed proclamation by Mayor Chris Watts recognizing Aug. 31 as a day of remembrance and education for overdose prevention. Hudspeth serves as Mayor Pro Tem for the city of Denton, after having been elected in May.
“I, Gerard Hudspeth, Mayor Pro Tem for Chris Watts, Mayor, city of Denton, do hereby declare and proclaim August 31st as Overdose Awareness Day in the city of Denton,” Hudspeth said. “And urge all citizens to remember those who have lost due to drug addiction and overdose.”
As of January, a total of 67,316 deaths have been attributed to drug overdose, according to provisional reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means, on average, someone in the United States dies from an overdose every seven minutes.
In Denton, emergency services have responded to a total of 126 overdose related calls as of Friday, Aug. 30, with an average of about 15.75 calls per month, according to EMS Battalion Chief Brad Lahart.
Last year, Denton EMS responded to a total of 223 overdose related calls, averaging about 18.58 per month, Lahart said, but acknowledged that Denton EMS has not looked into possible trends at this time.
When it comes to addressing addiction, 38-year-old Sarah Roland, a local criminal defense lawyer involved with the Denton County Drug Court and co-organizer of the event, said there is not a magic pill or quick fix for drug addiction, and it can’t be cured by love. If it could, she said, then her brother would still be alive.
“It doesn’t hide in the shadows and it’s not a disease just for the poor and underprivileged,” Roland said about drug addiction. “It affects us all. And it’s got to be controlled and it’s got to be stopped, and the conversation is why we’re having this, and it has to happen.”
Attendees at Saturday’s event were also given educational materials, including how to administer Narcan (naloxone), an antagonist used to temporarily reverse the effects of overdose from opioids.
A demonstration on how to identify and respond to suspected cases of overdose was led by Timothy Trail, coordinator for the Substance Use Resource and Education Center at the University of North Texas, and David Robinson, a graduate assistant at the resource center.
The demonstration, Robinson said, is part of the information their program tells students at UNT.
“One of the things we try to hit on is the heavier sort of speech or confusion, cold or clammy skin, heavy nodding and not responding,” Robinson said. “If you noticed their lips are blue or the beds of their nails are blue, they’re not getting oxygen to their brain and that’s a really dangerous situation.”
With Narcan (naloxone), all a person has to do is pop it up a person’s nose and spray, Trail said. The medication does not interact with substances other than opiates, such as alcohol.
At the event, those in attendance were able to receive canisters of Narcan nasal spray, which had been distributed throughout the evening by George Roland, a co-organizer of the event. The medication, which can be administered via IV, injected into a muscle or applied via nasal spray, begins working in as little as two or three minutes.
Allen resident Michelle Williams attended Saturday’s awareness day event in memory of her 24-year-old son Marcus, who died of an overdose five months ago . Williams, who left the event with three canisters of Narcan, acknowledged that she didn’t know about its availability prior to Saturday, but she wished it would have been in her home.
“So, at first, I wasn’t going to get any Narcan because my son is already gone,” Williams said. “But [George Roland] made a really good point that he keeps one in his truck just in case he sees somebody.”
Williams, who volunteers on weekends to feed the homeless in downtown Dallas, said that every weekend she sees people that are stung out on drugs. Now, Williams said, if she sees somebody that is passed out, then maybe she can run to her car and administer the medication before 911 arrives.
“Narcan is priceless — because it could literally save a life,” Williams said. “It’s absolutely priceless.”
At the end of the evening, in lieu of a balloon memorial, event-goers dawned pink glow-in-the dark glow-sticks in an effort to be more environmentally conscious. The moment of silence, followed by Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”, marked a time to remember and a time to act — to keep the conversation going.