Vigil brings community together for International Overdose Awareness Day

Sep. 1—Sean Nicholson stood in front of more than a hundred attendees in Baker Park, with purple banners positioned behind him. The banners displayed the faces and names of people who died from substance abuse and addiction.

During his speech, he turned over his shoulder to look back at the banners. Nicholson told the audience that so many more people have died from addiction and overdose than the faces on display.

He stressed that the reason he was taking part in the vigil as a person in long-term recovery for a substance-use disorder was the relationships and support he's had throughout his journey.

"No matter what you've done in life ... no matter how many people you've hurt in life and how many times you've went to jail or [the] psych ward ... God's bigger than the problem," he said. "Through compassion and through love, intentional living from others surrounding you and holding you up, you can make changes."

Nicholson was among a group of speakers taking part in a night of remembrance and candlelight vigil hosted by Frederick County Goes Purple on Thursday evening.

Dozens of people came to Baker Park clad in purple, which is associated with National Recovery Month in September.

Tables were set up near the bandshell by different organizations, including Richard Carbaugh's Hope Foundation, the Frederick County State's Attorney's Office and the Focus Recovery Center, offering free resources.

Attendees heard stories from people recovering from substance-abuse disorder and from those who've lost loved ones to addiction.

One speaker, Lynette Clark, said her son Michael O'Brien died three years ago from fentanyl poisoning after struggling with drug addiction for 25 years. She described him as a "sensitive soul" and said he turned to drug use to try to cover pain he felt.

Clark said she still faces feelings of guilt, questioning the choices she made before his death.

She said she feels the need to tell her son's story to possibly help save others experiencing addiction.

"If, heaven forbid, you're currently having a problem with drugs, don't delay. Talk to your parents, grandparents, siblings, spouses and any other loved ones. Trust them," she said. "If your son or daughter or spouse is having a problem with drugs, never stop fighting for them, no matter how hopeless the situation may appear."

Another speaker, Vlad Mirich, a young person recovering from substance abuse, said he began using substances at age 13, then got sober at 16.

During those years when he used drugs, he said, "there was a lot of hurt" he wasn't aware of. He said he was not taught the consequences of drug use on his body and the impact of using substances on the people around him.

When initially asked to speak at the event, Mirich wanted to say no — but he changed his mind.

Mirich said he wants to become a certified peer recovery specialist.

He said he owes his life to the relationships in his life and others he met who were also in recovery.

"Every morning, I wake up, and I think, 'Why me? Why do I get this chance?' And so, it's my job to accept things like this [event]," he said. "I could go back out and die, but I don't want to. I want to stay sober today, and I want to live because I have people around me that care."

The event concluded with a candlelight vigil. As the names of loved ones were read one by one, attendees came down to the bandshell and lit a candle.

After all the names were called, anyone in the audience could join the small crowd at the bandshell and light their own candles — and nearly everyone stood up to do so.

Jonathan Switzer, one of the coordinators for Frederick County Goes Purple, led the group in a prayer for loved ones who have died and for people currently struggling with addiction.

Switzer said events like the night of remembrance help remind those dealing with addiction or who know people struggling with substance abuse that they aren't alone in the battle.

"That's the goal, that when you're in despair, when you're in isolation, when you're in the pain and the hopelessness, what you need is you need somebody to come along and say, 'Look, man, I'm there with you,'" he said. "Recovery works. We're in it together. Don't give up."