WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — Survivors and families of victims gathered in downtown Watertown on Wednesday to bring awareness to the drug overdose epidemic happening in the North Country.

September 15 has been officially designated as Overdose Awareness Day in Jefferson County. This is as the county continues to face a heroin and fentanyl crisis and the drug epidemic remains acute within the city of Watertown.

“We thought we had a handle on this problem,” Jefferson County District Attorney Krystina Mills said. “And then the pandemic hit, and reforms hit, and we slid so far backward.”

According to the DA, in the last year and a half, has claimed the lives of 50 county residents. The Watertown City Police Department has also administered Narcan kits on 125 individuals, 12 of which were unsuccessful.

To bring awareness to this ongoing issue, overdose survivors and families of victims shared their stories; which focused on breaking stigmas to provide support. This included community member Lauria Porter, who shared that how breaking this stigma in her family helped her son in his initial recovery.

“The shame and the stigma that comes with addiction is absolutely crippling,” Porter said. “If you let it, it can be the reason that recovery is futile.”

Porter said her family was first in denial when they realized her son had an addiction, but it was when they began providing support, he started his recovery. Porter said this is advice all community members can take in fighting the drug crisis.

“Don’t ever give up hope,” she expressed. “Stand up for your loved ones. Speak out against the faulty thinking of today’s society; the shame and the blame. Don’t be afraid to save a life because you never know that that life that you save, maybe the life of your own child.”

Grant Robinson, who shared his story on surviving multiple overdoses also said it is time to break the stigma.

“I ask anybody out there, to stop calling people junkies and dirty and addicts,” Robinson urged. “That’s not what they are. They are somebody’s children, or somebody’s brothers, parents, their people. They are loved and they deserve to be treated just like anyone else.”

As a survivor, he is now a spokesperson and Narcan trainer. Robinson has worked to form overdose emergency kits that contain Narcan kits and Fentanyl testing strips.

He said the biggest thing community members or survivors like him can do is learn how to respond to future overdoses.

“It could be somebody who you see in traffic, or in a parking lot, but this disease is affecting everybody,” Robinson said. “I encourage [survivors] to help others. Give back, pay it forward a hundred percent. Give others the tools that saved your life. That is what I encourage.”

Free Narcan kits can be obtained by contacting the Alliance for Better Communities. Below are resources for those struggling with addiction:

  • Samhsa National 24/7 Help Line: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
  • NYS OASAS 27/7 Hopeline: 1-877-8-HOPENY
  • Crisis & Recovery Center (Malone) 24/7 Crisis Line: 518-481-8160
  • PIVOT: 315-788-4660
  • Jefferson County Crisis Responce: 315-782-2327