Minnesota recorded a record more than 1,000 overdose deaths in 2020, a mark as grim as events this week in Duluth, on International Overdose Awareness Day, were encouraging.

Every overdose death is preventable. That was the overriding message of hope at a gathering Monday at the Duluth Civic Center and at a vigil Monday evening in Lincoln Park that included testimonials, tributes, music, and more. With awareness, education, and intervention, needless deaths from drug use and addiction can be avoided. And if not prevented, Naloxone, or Narcan, can be deployed medically to reverse an overdose and save a life.

In addition, “Recovery is possible,” said a statement from Recovery Alliance Duluth, a peer-to-peer community organization. “According to (a) national survey,” the alliance further stated, “27.5 million adults living in the United States reported … having a substance use issue. Of those, … 74.8%, or approximately 20.5 million adults in the United States, reported that they were in recovery.”

Hope for recovery and prevention is also the point of September’s designation as Recovery Month.

In Duluth this year, 198 overdoses were reported as of Aug. 10, resulting in 20 deaths, according to the city. The Duluth Police Department, nonprofits like Harm Reduction Sisters, the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, and Recovery Alliance Duluth, as well as others, are working to reduce that number and save Duluthians’ lives.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“I want to say that Duluth is taking real strides to address the opioid epidemic and substance use disorder in our community. But unfortunately, it still isn't enough," Jess Nickila, coordinator of the substance use response team for the Duluth Police, said at Tuesday’s vigil, according to News Tribune coverage.

"Drug use should not be a death sentence," Sue Purchase said, according to the newspaper story. She has been working in harm reduction in Duluth for two years. "We provide syringe services, Narcan distribution and education,” as well as “needed supplies to prevent HIV, endocarditis, Hepatitis C, and other public health issues related to drug use."

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson offered a proclamation for the annual efforts to raise awareness, in the hope that those who need help find it. Or help finds them.

“It is critical that people experiencing mental and substance use disorders receive the support they need,” the mayor said in the statement from Recovery Alliance Duluth. “The reality is that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people recover.”

Such reminders offer encouragement, even when grim numbers are on the rise and hope seems distant. It’s not.