WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) — A deadly epidemic continues to have a hold on the North Country: Drug addiction and overdoses.

But the community is putting up a fight.

In recognition of Jefferson County’s Overdose Awareness Day on September 21, community leaders, members and advocates gathered at Watertown City Hall.

Many spoke at the event, including the mother of Lisha Skelton, who died at the age of 28 last year from a Fentanyl overdose. Her mother spoke in her honor and advocated for others struggling with the disease.

“I will be their voice,” she said. “To change the stigma about addiction.”

Additional speakers included Reverand Jeff Smith from Watertown’s First Baptist Church. He shared his experience as one in recovery, as well as a parent of an overdose victim.

“For those of you who have family members, or you might be struggling with addiction, let me tell you, there’s hope after drug addiction,” Rev. Smith stated. “I was a heroin addict for over twenty years, I know the mindset of a drug-addicted person. I know what they go through.”

As hundreds are losing their lives to addiction in the North Country, including a 13-year-old in 2021, many agree that stigma continues to be a major roadblock.

“A lot of people measure what my success or other people’s success is recovery should look like. That needs to stop,” urged Northern Recovery Initiative’s, Grant Robinson. “Good recovery is measured by the individual.”

Law enforcement, including Watertown City Police and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, have also stepped up to the issue.

Jefferson County Sheriff Colleen O’Neil explained that it’s an all-encompassing issue.

“We are actually honestly more interested in helping people live than putting people in jail,” Sheriff O’Neil said. “But those two go hand-in-hand in the law enforcement world.”

Law enforcement and recovery initiatives are prioritizing harm-reduction methods, as well as educating the public on overdose prevention.

The New York State problem gambling and chemical dependency HOPEline is available 24/7 to callers throughout New York State experiencing substance abuse and problem gambling. HOPEline services are free and confidential. For help, call 1-877-8-HOPENY (467369) or text HOPENY(467369).