Around Town

Overdose Awareness Vigil set for Aug. 31 in Park Square Green

CORE Coordinator Kathi Cotugno (PHOTO SUBMITTED)

WESTFIELD – The Coalition for Outreach, Recovery and Education – CORE of Greater Westfield – is sponsoring a vigil to promote overdose awareness, healing and hope for the community on Aug. 31 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Park Square Green.

“Please join us downtown as we reflect and remember those who have lost their lives to the disease of substance use, as well as remember those who are currently struggling with the disease,” said CORE Coordinator Kathi Cotugno.

Speakers during the vigil will include state Sen. John C. Velis and Jen Thielen, a person in long-term recovery. Music will be provided by the Westfield Evangelical Free Church.  There will be information given out by 14 resource organizations offering hope and help to people and their families who are struggling.

The Wall of Healing and Hope will be available to post messages and memories in honor of loved ones, Cotugno said, adding that the evening will end with a candlelight vigil.

In 2020, Westfield had 47 non-fatal overdoses and eight deaths.  Through June of 2021, the city had 34 non-fatal overdoses and three deaths.

“I think that nationally 2020 was really a devastating year; there were 93,000 overdose deaths in the U.S.   In Westfield, our numbers were down from 2019 significantly, in both deaths and non-fatal overdoses, by almost half,” Cotugno said.

Cotugno credits the trend downward in Westfield to the Drug Addiction and Recovery Team (DART) program that goes out and does outreach within 72 hours when possible to anybody who has had a non-fatal overdose.  Partnering with Tapestry Health, a clinical nurse from Mercy Medical, a community service police officer and a recovery coach from Mental Health Associates, they offer Narcan and wound care, and talk about services that are available.

“The first step is providing them with harm reduction, such as Narcan and wound care. It’s just about having the team and recovery coach make that connection, so we can keep providing services,” Cotugno said.

She said the team does follow up after the initial visit. If someone would like to continue with the recovery coach, they will continue to see them on a weekly basis.  “Our long-term goal is they will enter into services, but we are meeting them where they are,” Cotugno said, adding, “We have had success, and our numbers show we have had success. Our overdose rate has gone down since 2019.”

“It’s important to know there’s somebody there to help them in a nonjudgmental way. It’s not about forcing them into detox or an inpatient program, it is meeting them where they’re at. Are there other steps we can help them with? Absolutely,” she said.

Cotugno said the purpose of the overdose awareness vigil is to offer information on what is available, and also to remember, “to provide healing and hope for the community.”

For more information on CORE of Greater Westfield and their programs, contact Cotugno at 642-9322, or by email at [email protected]

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