Row after row of multi-colored flags, each representing more than 8,000 victims of the opioid crisis over four years, covered a large section of the Foxboro Common last Sunday during a rally to raise awareness to stop the epidemic.
The sobering representation marked by the flags was noted by many at “The Stakes Are High” rally as being too many.
“Everyone knows someone who’s not just been touched by this, but destroyed by this,” said Carol Lorento of Weymouth, who lost her son Derek to the opioid epidemic in 2016.
Lorento was one of many of the dozens in attendance who despaired at the increasing number of opioid deaths.
“The numbers are still climbing. That’s the sad part,” Lorento said.
The event was organized by former Foxboro Jaycees president Kris Long, an advocate recovery coach who also works at GateHouse Treatment in Nashua, N.H.
The rally coincided with the first of the month, as September is designated National Recovery Month by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Through the help of the Jaycees, Long was able to present the “first of its kind” awareness event, called such because of the entirety of the flags representing the multiple years of the epidemic, as well as the progression of the disease.
Green, orange, yellow and purple flags marked the years 2015 to 2019, respectively.
Long’s own life has been affected by the opioid crisis, with two of her children in recovery.
“People need to realize, this is not getting any better,” Long said. “There’s no boundaries to addiction.”
Among the speakers at the event were Carmen Dwyer of Wareham, who wept openly as she spoke of her late son Michael’s struggle with addiction.
As Michael went in and out of treatment, Dwyer said she as a parent also wrestled with “loving and letting go.”
But along the way, Dwyer discovered new strength and truths within herself.
“He’s my hero today,” she said. “He taught me to love and not judge. My faith is stronger than my brokenness.”
Another speaker, Lenny Hensas, who is an X-ray technologist for the New England Patriots, also lost his son to the opioid crisis.
Hensas was accompanied by his wife Joanne.
“It hits everyone,” Lenny Hensas said. “It trickles down and touches everyone.”
Two other guests at the rally were Matt Ganem and Justin Clancy, who are both performing artists from Boston and recovering addicts.
Through their respective poetry and music, Ganem and Clancy offered hope to those who are struggling to overcome their addictions.
Ganem also rallied the crowd to “use your voices and speak out,” saying that change did not happen without “that loud voice.”
Clancy, too, was grateful for his new chance with recovery.
“It’s given me opportunities to really go and chase my dreams, and do what I want to do,” he said.
State Sen. Paul Feeney, D-Foxboro, and the Rev. Edward Cardoza of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Foxboro drew attention to the importance of lending a helping hand to others to let them know their lives matter, and to come together as a community and in prayer to remedy the disconnection of addiction.
The importance of ending the stigma of addiction through speaking out was also discussed.
“It’s an illness,” Joanne Hensas said. “It needs to be treated properly.”