Their Lights Shine On: Overdose Remembrance and Awareness at Assumption University

Sep. 2, 2022
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On International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31, a day to reduce the stigma surrounding drug-related death, Assumption University hosted Their Light Shines On, an event for overdose awareness and remembrance of those who lost their life to overdose around the globe and in our Assumption and Worcester communities. 

In 2021, 107,622 people lost their life to overdose in the United States. In Massachusetts, there were 2,290 deaths and in Worcester, 123 fatal overdoses (second only to Boston). 

Their Light Shines On created a space of remembrance and of hope, recognizing the tragedy of opioid overdose, but at the same time acknowledging that it is preventable. The event welcomed members of the community to speak on the issue of overdose. Speakers included the Worcester County Sheriff, Lew Evangelidis;  the President of Revive of the USA Inc., Anthony Bizzotto; an overdose activist currently in recovery, Abigail Chrobak; and three mothers Deb Dowd-Foley, Aileen Lovejoy, and Elise Milliken who lost their sons to overdose.   

Interim President Gregory Weiner Ph.D., thanked the community for attending and stated the importance of remembering those who have passed away from overdose. He encouraged attendees that their remembrance will “lead to action.” 

Christian Williams, Ph.D., assistant professor in Assumption University's Human Services and Rehabilitation Studies department, a passionate advocate and resource for those afflicted with addiction, and lead organizer of the event, in her opening remarks stated, “Addiction touches all kinds of communities. While it’s an epidemic it also personal.” Emphasizing the dignity of the human person and acknowledging the high quantity of deaths because of overdose she stated the popular quote, “Statistics are just humans with the tears dried off.” 

Caitlin Stover, Ph.D., Dean of the Froelich School of Nursing, echoed Professor Williams' remarks stating that we must remember each individual not for their overdose or their addiction, but for who they were -- “for the good.”  Concluding her speech about her personal connection to overdose in her family and how the Assumption Nursing program will stive to maintain human dignity, she stated, “The stigma stops with you. The stigma stops with me. It stops with the Assumption community.” 

Lew Evangelidis, Worcester County Sherriff exclaimed that the criminal justice system is “a big part in the fight” against addiction and overdose and that his department is “proud” to be in it. He continued by stating that more people died in 2021 alone to overdose than in the Vietnam War, “This is a tough debt, but let’s keep hope.” 

Anthony Bizzotto, president, co-founder, & director of Revive of the USA, Inc., gave a personal testimonial about his trial with addiction and said that his success now and strength in his weakness is “all through the grace of God.” Revive of the USA, Inc. is a “recovery community outreach program that takes a holistic approach to recovery through the incorporation of movement to help clients heal their mind, body, and spirit.” Mr. Bizzotto informed the community that “no demographic is exempt” from addiction and while “the wound may not be our fault; the healing will always be our responsibility.” 

Overdose awareness activists and mothers, Deb Dowd-Foley, Aileen Lovejoy ‘01, ‘05, and Elise Milliken lost their sons to overdose and spoke about the men they were. Mrs. Dowd-Foley's son Brian was a fellow greyhound. 

Following the captivating, heartbreaking, hopeful, and inspiring stories of the members of our Assumption and Worcester communities. Those in attendance were invited to partake in a 107,622 step walk around the Assumption University campus in honor of each life lost nationally in 2021. The path was lined with luminary bags some with the name of loved ones lost, as well as purple flags to represent recovery month. The event concluded with a reception of community organizations to raise awareness of their support of the issues of addiction and overdose. The organizations in attendance included: Advanced Psych Services, Blue Hills Recover, Everyday Miracles, Genesis Club, H.A.L.O. 18, Lake Ave. Recovery, Revive of the USA, Inc., SADOD, Spectrum Health Systems, Team Sharing, Worcester County District Attorney’s Office, and Worcester County Sheriff's Office.  

Assumption student clubs and organizations partaking in the event were: Active Minds, Human Services Club, Peers Advocating Wellness for Students (PAWS), and the Student Nursing Association. 

Their Light Shines On was the kickoff to National Recovery month in September. Throughout the month there will be recovery activities being held such as Narcan and hands off CPR trainings, guest speakers, and a film viewing. 

Together as a community of students, faculty, staff, family, friends, and organizations around the Worcester community, Assumption University remembers the people “for the good”, not their addiction and shines hope for a world where addiction is fought so that mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives do not have to live with the loss of their loved one from overdose.