The pain of losing a loved one to an accidental drug overdose is all too familiar to James Moore, who lost his son Jeffrey to addiction in 2015.
To honor and remember Jeffrey – as well as the more than 100,000 people who have died of drug overdoses in the United States in the past 12 months – Moore presents The Purple Flag Project, which is displayed in front of his store, Moore’s Bike Shop on Hardy Street in Hattiesburg. In conjunction with International Overdose Awareness Day, which falls on August 31, Project Purple Flag involves Moore placing a purple flag — the color of overdose awareness — at half mast on the store’s flag pole.
“It’s just to draw attention to the fact that it happens all the time; it’s happening more and more frequently,” Moore said. “With the frustration I have had since the death of my son, and not receiving any local news of local overdose deaths as we do with car accident deaths and other deaths, I asked the first local stakeholders…. to notify me when they encounter an overdose. Not with personal information or names, just the fact that it happened, where it happened and when it happened, and amazingly they all agreed to do it.
“If it weren’t for something like this, and if you weren’t the families directly affected, these deaths go completely unnoticed and invisible. In the five weeks I’ve done this project, I’ve had seven deaths reported to me, and I actually have two people on the waiting list to have the flag flown at half-mast for their deaths. It’s in what I consider to be the Greater Hattiesburg area, and I define it as Marion, Lamar, Forrest, Perry, and Jones counties.
Additionally, Moore placed 107 purple pinwheels on the lawn of his home, with each pinwheel representing 1,000 Americans who have lost their lives to drug overdoses in the past 12 months.
“Each pinwheel represents a thousand broken families that will never be the same again,” Moore said. “One hundred and seven thousand over a 12 month period – that’s the latest record, and we haven’t peaked yet.
“We haven’t reached the point where the (number of overdose deaths during the year) is going down; it increases every year. For the first time in American history, last year one of the leading causes of death among people under 50 was accidental drug overdose. Surprisingly, the number one cause of death among people under 50 was accidental drug overdose. And the fact that it’s the number one cause of death – when was the last time you heard the local news or the local paper reporting on a particular overdose? »
Moore understands the lack of reporting in some cases, especially when it comes to protecting the family of an overdose victim. In these cases, the cause of death may instead be listed as heart failure or respiratory problems.
“It could be because in some cases there is a delay in getting a toxicology report back,” he said. “And even if the officer sees the needle in the exhaled victim’s arm, because he doesn’t have confirmation, he can’t say it was actually an overdose until until the toxicology report comes back.
“But to my great satisfaction, the local sheriffs I have spoken to, the local police departments, have agreed to work with me on this matter in a way that does not compromise the confidentiality of any individual or family.”
On August 31, Moore hosted the first local international overdose awareness candlelight vigil at the bike shop. Mayor Toby Barker proclaimed the day International Overdose Awareness Day in Hattiesburg, and those who have lost loved ones were invited to light a candle in memory of those people.
According to statistics from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an analysis of drug overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020 found that these deaths increased by about 30% in the United States during this period. The recent increase in such deaths has been largely due to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and modified forms of the drug fentanyl.
Most people who died of overdose had no evidence of drug treatment prior to their death, and evidence of prior documented treatment was weaker among people from racial and ethnic minority groups than among those who died. Whites.
For more information on International Overdose Awareness Day, visit www.samhsa.gov.