Black Balloon Day pays tribute to those who died from opiate epidemic

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) –  Dozens of black balloons fill the steps of Old Erie County Hall in downtown Buffalo. It’s all in remembrance of those who have died from opiod overdoses in the past year.

It’s been six months since Debra Smith lost her son Nathaniel to an opiod overdose.

“Every day I think about losing him, and how I lost him in such a preventable epidemic,” she said.
Now she’s fighting for programs to prevent more loss of life and to support these victims and their families.

She said, “There are people out there who need a place to go. They need to be able to pick up the telephone, and have a telephone number with someone on the other end of the phone that they can speak to, in order to address this.”
She calls it a “shame” there needs to be an annual “Black Balloon Day” to honor life lost. Families hold photos close to them of loved ones who died because of the opiod epidemic.

Suzanne Kuczka is a Buffalo Pharmacist. She’s been working in the industry for 20 years. She said, “Everybody knows somebody in their family or in their lives that’s suffered from this.”
She said she’s seen first hand how this epidemic has gotten worse over the years. “There is a program in New York State that you can get up to ten needles at a time. Most addicts only pick one, but it gives them a clean needle. When they first come to me they feel ashamed. Its a stigma, but I make sure that there is no judgement.”
Families will put the balloons outside their homes in hopes of showing the widespread nature of addiction in Western New York. For Smith, the day is about keeping Nathaniel’s memory alive, and and making sure others don’t have to go through what she calls a parents worst nightmare.

Smith said, “I think a lot of times he’s with me. He’s with me right here. He’s with me in my heart. In my soul. I think he’d be proud of me.”

Erie County Public Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein is also reminding the community to safely dispose of any leftover medication in your home. She says to tell friends and family if they are prescribed medication, it is okay to say ‘no.’

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