White flag overdose awareness ceremony brings hundreds to Olbrich Park to remember loved ones lost

The hundreds of white flags displayed along Atwood Avenue in Olbrich Park were lit by candle light after a memorial ceremony Saturday.

International Overdose Awareness Day brought a couple hundred people out to the display to remember all the lives lost from fatal overdoses.

“This epidemic has been ripping out families from the inside out.”#DaneCounty District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne says it is important to openly talk about the drug epidemic to make the community safer. pic.twitter.com/uosqebfFzc

— Jamie Perez (@JamiePerezTV) September 1, 2019

Among those who spoke at the ceremony was Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes. Barnes spoke about the fact that mental illness is tied to the drug epidemic and that more attention is needed on addressing mental health in order to find a solution. Barnes also noted that drug use does not discriminate and does not care who it affects. Barnes said when people suffer from substance abuse, it is “an illness, not a crime.”

Barnes also said that ceremonies like the one held Saturday is an example of the attention that should be given to this growing epidemic. He said this is a problem we can’t fix and can’t end without access to well-rounded and thorough rehabilitation.

Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes is talking about how mental illness and substance abuse go hand in hand. He said opioid abuse does not discriminate and that we need more access to good treatment facilities to help solve this growing problem. #news3now pic.twitter.com/KigxRWHMb1

— Jamie Perez (@JamiePerezTV) September 1, 2019

Dane County District Attorney Ishmael Ozanne also spoke at the event. Ozanne said he sees many people go through the criminal justice system whose crimes are a result of substance abuse. He said getting those people the help they need would dramatically impact the safety of our community.

Dane County District Judge and Reverend Everett Mitchell also addressed the crowd Saturday. He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

Mitchell noted that we have an opportunity to help people in the future by keeping the discussion going and not making conversations about it taboo.

“I believe people need to be heard, they need to be listened to, they need to be understood, they need to be cared for, they need people to advocate for them and say the system has to be better. Mitchell said. “We have to do more than what we have done in order to get the best results for our human beings, our friends, our families and people in our communities that matter the most.”

A candlelight walk ended tonight’s ceremony. A couple hundred people walked through the white flag display placing a burning candle next to their loved ones that were lost to substance use. #news3now pic.twitter.com/EUfiDVW6an

— Jamie Perez (@JamiePerezTV) September 1, 2019

Mary Rauwolf, who lost her son to a heroin overdose in 2015, also spoke at the event. She brought attention to the fact that substance use can happen to anyone. She said she loved her son unapologetically, and that he loved his family just the same. But his trouble with navigating his life and dealing with bi-polar disorder, made his substance use more challenging than he was able handle. Rauwolf said it is time for people to stop victim shaming and parent shaming, and instead focus on loving the people who fall victim to the disease that takes so many lives far too soon. Rauwolf said as the years go by, it becomes harder for her to grasp that she has lost her son forever and will never get to hold him again.

Saturday’s ceremony ended with a candle light walk through the white flag where people were able to leave candles next to their loved ones’ flags.

For more information about this project, who you can ask for help, or for reassurance that you are not alone, you may reach out to Safe Communities.

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