- Executive Office of Health and Human Services
Media Contact for Healey-Driscoll Administration Recognizes Overdose Awareness Day and Recovery Month
Olivia James, Communications Manager
BOSTON — Massachusetts today is awash in purple – a color symbolic of recovery and healing – as cities and towns across the Commonwealth recognize International Overdose Awareness Day. This annual event serves as a time to remember lives lost to overdose, acknowledge the grief felt by family and friends, raise awareness, and combat the stigma too often associated with substance-related deaths.
In observance of Overdose Awareness Day, many buildings and bridges have been lit in purple, and candlelight vigils are being held in communities throughout the state. In Boston, more than 22,000 purple flags were planted on the Boston Common, commemorating the Massachusetts residents who have died from overdoses during the past decade. Larger purple flags represent the 2,357 people who died last year.
“Overdose Awareness Day serves as a solemn reminder of the lives lost, families torn apart, and communities devastated by the scourge of opioids,” said Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey. “Our Commonwealth remains unrelenting in its determination to find effective solutions to substance use disorders, provide support to those affected, and save lives. We will not let up until we bring an end to this devastating epidemic.”
“Overdose Awareness Day is a testament to resilience, and a time to acknowledge the cycle of desperation, heartache, acceptance, and resolve that too many families experience,” said Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll. “The impact of the rise of overdose deaths stretches far beyond the individual, taking a painful toll on families. We must press on in the name of the thousands of people who are represented by purple flags across our state and meet the daunting challenge to end overdose deaths.”
At the ceremony on Boston Common, Governor Healey and Lieutenant Governor Driscoll along with Secretary of Health and Human Services Kate Walsh; Commissioner of Public Health (DPH) Robbie Goldstein, MD, PhD; DPH Director of Bureau of Substance Addiction Services Deirdre Calvert; and officials from the Boston Office of Recovery Services, and Boston Medical Center joined with families, friends, and volunteers to plant flags and participate in a moment of silence. Governor Healey issued a proclamation declaring Aug. 31 as Overdose Awareness Day in the Commonwealth.
The commemorative flags, along with resource tables offering harm reduction, addiction prevention, and recovery support resources, will remain in place on the Common through Sept. 4.
Other events and vigils to mark International Overdose Awareness Day are planned in communities across the state. Information about Massachusetts International Overdose Awareness Day events can be found here.
“The purple flags on the Boston Common and in cities and towns across Massachusetts are stark and poignant reminders that behind each flag – behind each overdose death – is a person who once lived, who was part of a family, part of a community, a friend, a colleague,” said Secretary Walsh. “And sadly, these overdose deaths have impacted communities of color at an even greater rate. As we continue to push back against substance-related deaths we also must push forward toward equity, healing, recovery, and a brighter future for those who struggle with addiction and for those who love and care about them.”
The increase in substance use disorders in Massachusetts remains one of the most challenging issues for the Commonwealth. The 2,357 opioid-related overdose deaths reported in 2022 represent the highest rate to date; a 9 percent increase from the pre-pandemic high in 2016, and 3 percent higher than 2021 overdose deaths.
“While opioids were intended to offer relief from pain and suffering, today for many families, opioids symbolize the opposite – a source of unthinkable pain and heartbreak,” said DPH Commissioner Goldstein. “Overdose deaths, however, represent only a piece of the story. The number of nonfatal overdoses has been a missing chapter in the overall narrative. We are now compiling these data, and they too present a bleak picture. Yet, each close call offers a chance to rewrite a story and recapture a future still within reach.”
DPH has recently compiled data about nonfatal overdoses by city/town from 2014 through 2020. These new data reflect 111,476 incidents of nonfatal overdoses occurring during this period, suggesting that for every one fatal overdose there are an estimated 12 nonfatal overdoses. The nonfatal numbers, however, include only those individuals treated within the medical system (ambulance, hospitals, clinics). The incidence of nonfatal overdose is likely much higher in part because of the availability of naloxone kits (a drug that can reverse overdose effects) without a prescription in Massachusetts. The publication of nonfatal data helps present a more comprehensive picture of the state’s overall opioid crisis.
“While the numbers of overdose deaths have not been going in the right direction, Overdose Awareness Day serves to unite communities in a meaningful and powerful way, and inspires us to keep fighting for recovery, for equity, for life,” said Bureau Director Calvert. “There is a saying, ’The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.’ For those who are struggling with substance use disorders, now is the best time to start the healing and recovery process. There is a lot of help and support available.”
The Healey-Driscoll Administration is committed to addressing substance use disorders and providing vital resources to communities to reverse the overdose trend. Actions include investing more than $600 million in substance addiction prevention and treatment programs across the state; distributing naloxone through more than 120 DPH naloxone distribution programs; making available more than 150,000 fentanyl test strips free of charge; and supporting and funding an additional 12 peer recovery support centers, bringing the total number of centers to 39.
To learn more about Massachusetts’ efforts to address substance use disorders and reduce stigma, visit the Commonwealth’s website.
International Overdose Awareness Day will be followed by Recovery Month, an annual national observance held throughout September to promote hope and recovery from substance use disorders. Information about Recovery Month celebrations and events in the state can be found here.
If you, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or colleague is struggling with substance use, please call the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline at 800-327-5050, or visit https://helplinema.org/