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Proactive Group in Watauga Brings Attention to International Overdose Awareness Day, Wednesday, Aug. 31; Series of Events Planned

An interactive art installation to be on the lawn of the Watauga Government Center Aug. 31- Sept. 30 includes work of  three local psychotherapists:  “My Loved One” is the anchor image for lament/mourning/honoring of loved ones lost to overdose. “You are Not Alone” for harm reduction and saving lives. “Hope” is the anchor image for recovery.

By Sherrie Norris

It’s past time for Watauga County to step up to the plate regarding the ever-increasing number of overdoses, both locally and across the country, said Mary McKinney, local Marriage and Family Therapist, who is rallying the troops for change and awareness.

“I love many people who have suffered from Substance Use Disorders (SUDs or addictions),” added McKinney. “Having watched their struggles, and those of my clients, has fueled me with a passion to shatter stigma, raise awareness, and increase access to resources. Recovery is for everyone — but not everyone gets recovery.” 

McKinney is joining forces with other local professionals and concerned citizens to not only educate the community about the devastating effects of overdose, but to also support those individuals and families who have been faced with the heartbreaking aftermath of overdoses.

In an effort to bring this often uncomfortable topic to the table, “End Overdose in Watauga County” will be observed on Wednesday, Aug. 31, through a series of events happening around Boone. 

They include:

 Community Narcan Training. Tables located at F.A.R.M. Cafe (1pm-4pm), Lily’s Snack Bar (3 pm-5pm), Hatchet Coffee (1pm-4pm), the Boone Mall (12:30pm-2:30pm), Regear Outdoors (1pm-4pm); The Watauga Government Center (6pm-7pm) will offer Naloxone Overdose Reversal training and harm reduction and recovery resources, including Narcan & fentanyl test strips.

Remembrance Event: A 7 p.m. gathering at the green space and parking area of Poplar Grove Connector to open an interactive art installation that will remain there throughout September —which is  Recovery Month — and to honor together lives lost to overdose.  In addition to resource information, this installation is the work of three local psychotherapists: Andi Gelsthorpe, Lexie Danner, and Mary McKinney; and Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) Intern, Shawn Pressley. “The (screen-printed) images will hang in the interactive art installation,” McKinney shared. “The space will include an altar area with seating to remember lives lost to overdose. There will also be a writing area with ‘My Loved One’ cards and writing prompts for individuals to consider leaving messages for or about lost loved ones, love for the people left to remember them, and hope for our community. These messages may be left in the mailbox at the altar.  Anyone who wishes to do so, is encouraged to post a picture of their message to social media with the hashtags #MyLovedOneEOIW and #EndOverdoseInWatauga.” These messages will be collected throughout the month and will be used to create “found poetry,” McKinney added. “This collective poem/prose (to be created by McKinney and Pressley, will be presented at the Recovery Month Reentry Simulation on Sept. 30 to close Recovery Month. During the gathering on Wednesday, John Baley will speak of his personal experience as one — now in recovery — who nearly lost his life to overdose.  

“As is true of most people in recovery, he has cared about many people who have been lost to overdose and many others whose lives have been saved by overdose reversal medication,” McKinney said. “John is formerly of Watauga County and currently lives in Buncombe County where he works as a psychologist and attorney, with a focus on mental health issues in the justice system.  I am told that his storytelling is powerful and, at times, humorous.”  The day’s events will conclude with a candlelight vigil march.  

Collaborating for Change

The 1st Annual End Overdose in Watauga County event was hosted virtually in 2021 It was a result of a ministry proposal by the Welcoming, Inclusive, Supportive, and Engaged (W.I.S.E.) with people across the spectrum of mental health and illness, including substance use disorders) team at High Country United Church of Christ.

“We collaborated with community partners for this virtual event, in conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day,” said McKinney. This same ad hoc group has collaborated this year to plan expanded events for the 2nd Annual EOIW.” 

The group’s goals are to:

  • Raise awareness of overdose and overdose prevention resources,
  • Reduce the stigma of a drug-related death, 
  • Acknowledge the grief felt in our community for people who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose and offer them love and support, and
  • Honor the memory of lost loved ones.

“We also want to support the vital work of the people who do this work every day to help save and improve lives.  Peer Support Specialists at Watauga County LEAD and AppHealthCarem, and volunteers with Olive Branch Ministry are among these heroes and sheroes,” McKinney added. 

“The ad hoc planning group includes people from HCUCC, Watauga County LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion), AppHealthCare, Club 12, local private psychotherapists, and one of my interns. We are making plans to expand what we offer for Recovery Month this year.” 

For more information on this week’s events, see “End Overdose in Watauga County” on Facebook or contact Mary McKinney at endoverdoseinwatauga@gmail.com

More Coming For Recovery Month

As a follow up to these events in August, and to close out Recovery Month in September, A Reentry Simulation will be hosted by Mediation & Restorative Justice Center on Friday, Sept. 30 from 9 a.m. 12 p.m. at Boone United Methodist Church. This event will include the simulation, a guest speaker, lunch, an expo fair of reentry and recovery resources, and the sharing of a community poem created from the words left at the interactive art installation. 

“These simulations provide powerful insight into the perspectives and barriers faced by people reentering the community, after a period of incarceration and how we can better serve our community, McKinney shared.

Registration ($15) is open and includes the simulation, speaker, lunch and expo fair. Scholarships are available. For more information, contact Mackenzie.mrjc@gmail.com or call (828) 406-4523.

For event info and registration contact: mackenzie.mrjc@gmail.com.