Overdose Awareness Day 2021

Michelle Donaldson, a former addict who lost her husband to a drug overdose, spoke at the Overdose Awareness Day event in Kingsport on Tuesday. Donaldson shared part of her story of addiction, her treatment journey and her life in recovery.

KINGSPORT — More than 3,000 Tennesseans died from drug overdoses last year, according to preliminary numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2019, that number was more than 2,000.

Currently, more Americans die from opioid overdoses than in any armed conflict since the end of World War II. It’s the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States.

And it’s something that’s completely preventable, said Jane Henry, chair of AveNew: the United Way of Greater Kingsport’s drug education and prevention initiative.

“Addressing the addiction and opioid epidemic continues to be an urgent issue facing our region,” Henry said. “We believe that only by working together can we effect positive change.”

Tuesday was International Overdose Awareness Day — a day that aims to educate the public about the problem, remember the lives of people lost, reduce the stigma that surrounds drug-related deaths and substance misuse, and promote prevention efforts.

Local United Way representatives and volunteers and Kingsport and Sullivan County officials recognized the day at an event at the Kingsport Farmers Market. Kingsport Alderman Paul Montgomery led those in attendance in prayer and a moment of silence to recognize and remember those who are no longer with us and pray for those still fighting the battle.

“We’re thankful to live in a community willing to attack this issue and find ways to help those who need it,” Montgomery said.

The Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Department of Health, and community groups across the state held memorials, training sessions and awareness events.

Michelle Donaldson is a former addict who lost her husband to a drug overdose.

On Tuesday, Donaldson shared part of her story of addiction, her treatment journey and her life in recovery.

“My husband and I suffered from addiction for 13 years. We lost homes, vehicles, family and friends, and most of all we lost ourselves with addiction,” Donaldson said.

Fast-forward to three and a half years ago. Donaldson was on her way to work while her husband was on the way to get their drugs for the day. When she came home from work, Donaldson found her husband’s body cold and lifeless. No one was there in time to save him.

“The stigma and shame for asking for help and getting medically assisted treatment stopped us from getting the help and treatment we needed,” Donaldson said. “The day before he overdosed, he called the clinic to see about getting us in and getting help.”

Thankfully, Donaldson was able to get into recovery and get the medically assisted treatment she needed to work through her addiction, her grief and other issues. Seventy-six days ago, she got off the medically assisted treatment and is 100% clean.

“It starts with all of us and not telling people they need help, but rather offering people help,” she said.

To learn more about overdoses, to hear stories of recovery and prevention from across the state, and to connect with events and resources in your community visit tntogether.com/ioad. Call or text the TN REDLINE at (800) 889-9789 for a free referral to addiction treatment services and linkage to community-based overdose prevention resources.

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