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WAYNESBURG SEmD The Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative dedicated a flower garden Sunday at the Sandy Valley Cemetery in memory to those lost to addiction.
Rev. Lisa Elliott, pastor of Church of the Open Door, was the guest speaker. She reminded supporters in attendance of the importance of the remembrance.
"We are hear not only to memorialize those who have succumbed to addiction, but to remember the families who are left behind," she said.
Elliott also offered a short prayer, including a reading from Isaiah 40, which reminds us that there is comfort for God's people.
In part, it says "a voice cries 'in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.'"
Elliott noted that her church offers an addiction support group "Hope in the Valley."
"We open our doors to those who are struggling and who need our help," she said.
Elliott also lauded the efforts of Sarah Nelson and the Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative. Nelson is executive chairperson of the organization.
"The group provides support to those who are in the throes of addition," Nelson said.
Following the prayer, Magnolia Police Chief Jeff Hager released 21 balloons, including 18 in remembrance of area victims of addition. Each balloon included a card with the name of an individual from the area lost to addition as well as the web address for the Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative.
The Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative started in 2014 after that community saw an increase in drug overdoses. Its mission is to promote a drug-free community by mobilizing diverse partnerships to plan and implement strategies that reduce the stigma that surrounds addiction and increases public awareness through education of the harmful effects of alcohol, tobacco and other drug use.
Groups like the Sandy Valley Drug Awareness Initiative and support groups like the program offered at Church of the Open Door are tackling a growing problem head on.
Across Ohio, 2,482 people died from unintentional drug overdoses in 2014. Of those deaths 80 percent involved an opiate, such as heroin or prescription painkillers, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
Moreover, in Stark County the number of unintentional overdose deaths from opiates continues to climb each year.
An Ohio Health Issues poll released last year found that three in 10 Ohio adults have a friend or family member who has misused prescription pain medication. Another 20 percent know someone who has used heroin.
"The problem is real and we have to continue to fight," Nelson told supporters. "Heroin is a big problem. To see the young people we see fighting this battle and the lives that are lost every day just breaks my heart."
The Sandy Drug Awareness Initiative will hold its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. July 19 at Magnolia Village Hall, 328 N. Main St., Magnolia