Burlington County officials will join with local advocates, residents, providers and families tomorrow evening for a vigil memorializing county residents who have died as a result of substance use disorder.
The Night of Tribute & Support vigil is held annually on International Drug Awareness Day to help eliminate stigma surrounding substance use disorder, remember those who lost their lives to the disease and provide support to loved ones left behind.
“Long before COVID-19, the substance use disorder was stealing lives and unfortunately it still is,” said Burlington County Commissioner Director Dan O’Connell. “We offer our support to those who have lost loved ones to this disease and to those struggling against addiction. We must not lose hope. Help and support continues to be made available and by working together we can and will beat back this crisis, one life at a time.”
The vigil and remembrance ceremony will be held at 7 PM at the Burlington County Amphitheater, 5 Pioneer Boulevard. It is organized by the Burlington County Coalition for Healthy Communities, Burlington County Department of Human Services Behavioral Health and Addiction Services Division, Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and support groups Shouting 4 Shelby and King’s Crusades.
This year marks the 5th year the Burlington County vigil has been held.
“It’s an honor to be part of the team that plans and organizes this event,” said Joe Conlin, director of community relations for the Coalition of Healthy Communities and Prevention Plus, a nonprofit group dedicated to preventing youth tobacco, alcohol and drug use. “By working together, we are helping to eliminate stigma, save lives and give hope to those battling this terrible affliction.”
Eric Gremminger, founder and CEO of ERP Health, will serve as the Master of Ceremonies and Commissioner O’Connell, Burlington County Prosecutor LaChia Bradshaw and Megan Cohen, founder of The Grace Project, are among the scheduled speakers.
The vigil will also feature musical performances and remembrances, including the reading of 229 names of loved ones lost.
The Burlington County Hope One mobile outreach unit will also be present at the amphitheater. The unit is run by the Burlington County Sheriff’s Department in partnership with the Burlington County Department of Human Services and Burlington County Health Department. Virtua Health, Maryville and the Deborah Heart and Lung Center also contribute staff to the unit, which regularly goes into county communities to help link residents with recovery specialists and treatment facilities. The unit also trains people on how to administer overdose antidote, known as Narcan.
The creation of the Hope One unit is one of several actions Burlington County has taken to assist residents suffering from substance use disorders.
Last month the County celebrated the opening of the Burlington County Community Peer Recovery Center in Burlington City to deliver critical support for those in recovery. The new center is located in the Burlington City Municipal Building and provides a space where individuals in recovery can receive peer support and information about treatment programs, support services and community resources.
It is the second Recovery Center opened by the County to deliver support. The first opened in 2020 in the Burlington County Human Services Building in Westampton.
The Burlington County Commissioners have also passed a resolution declaring all of Burlington County to be stigma-free. By eliminating stigma surrounding addiction and all mental illnesses, the Commissioners hope to encourage more people to seek treatment and recovery support.
At least 17 municipal governments have now passed similar resolutions expressing support for the County’s stigma-free initiative, including Bordentown City, Bordentown Township, Burlington City, Burlington Township, Chesterfield, Cinnaminson, Delran, Evesham, Florence, Lumberton, Moorestown, Mount Holly, Mount Laurel, Palmyra, Pemberton Township, Shamong, and Westampton. Rowan College at Burlington County’s Board of Trustees and school boards in 20 Burlington County school districts have also approved stigma-free designations.
“Helping to eliminate stigma is one of the most important actions our Board has taken to fight this crisis,” O’Connell said. “We’re dealing with a disease and we must do everything in our power to ensure those who need assistance are able to receive it.”