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Remembering the lives lost to opioid addiction

John Smith
Helio Health staff members hold candles and wear purple to commemorate National Opioid Overdose Awareness Month at its Hickory Street recovery center, Aug. 31, 2022.

Central New Yorkers are remembering the loved ones they've lost to drug overdoses to help others seek recovery services.

Helio Health, which provides substance use and mental health treatment programs, hosted a series of events Wednesday to mark National Opioid Awareness Month. Opioid-related deaths have been on the rise on Onondaga County since 2017, according to health department data.

Troy Wescott, a peer specialist at Helio, remembered his cousin Steven Parker, who overdosed 6 years ago. Wescott was also a drug user before joining Helio. He said the death of his cousin helped put him on the path to sobriety.

"I think my cousin dying was a big eye-opener to me because we just think it won't happen to us, and we think it won't happen to the people that are close to us, but it can happen to anyone," Westcott said.

Westcott said the risk is even greater as officials are increasingly finding pills laced with the potent substance fentanyl.

"Any type of drug that you can get, there could be something in there that's strong enough to kill you, overdose," he said.

A man, who wished to remain anonymous, said his mother died after a years-long struggled with addiction.

"I lost my mother to this disease. It wasn't a one-event OD, it was a lifetime, and I was there at the moment that she had to go down in a narcotic coma to let her body die," he said.

Helio Health said last year it helped more than 17,000 people with substance use and mental health disorders.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration operates a 24/7 hotline to help people find treatment and support at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

John Smith has been waking up WAER listeners for a long time as our Local Co-Host of Morning Edition with timely news and information, working alongside student Sportscasters from the Newhouse School.