About 80 people gathered at Auburn High School Tuesday October 17 to take part in a vigil for HOPE, an opioid awareness evening.

HOPE stands for Heroin Opioid Prevention Education, an initiative spearheaded by the Auburn Board of Health. According to Darlene Wood, Director of Development and Inspectional Services, HOPE is intended to raise awareness and provide education around opioid prevention.

Auburn School Superintendent, Dr. Maryellen Brunelle, delivered introductory remarks, commenting on the “staggering increase in opioid overdoses” in recent years. Through the efforts of the Auburn Schools, Police, Fire Rescue, Board of Health, and other constituents she said the hope is “reduce incidents to zero.”

“It does not matter what your zip code, educational level, or income is” said Dr. Brunelle. “Addiciton knows no barriers.”

After Rev. Dennis Knight of Pakachoag Church delivered the invocation, Senator Michael O. Moore (D-Millbury) took the podium. Moore, a member of Joseph Early’s Central MA Opioid Task Force, spoke about the urgent need to address the growing opioid epidemic.

“In 2016 close to 2,000 residents of the Commonwealth died as a result of opioid-related deaths” started Moore. Many of us have lost a friend, neighbor or family member to addiction” said Moore. “We gather here tonight in a somber reflection of the many lives lost to the opiate epidemic.”

Representative Paul Frost said “Far too many people have lost their lives to this opioid epidemic.” He added, “We need to tackle this not just from the top down, but from the bottom up. I’m very proud of Auburn for taking this step, because we have to fight it together.”

The Auburn Board of Selectmen chairperson, Doreen Goodrich, stated “We’ve started it. We’ve started the conversation. Hopefully people will now be comfortable to talk about this dreaded disease.”

The most powerful words were delivered by guest speaker David Austin. Austin spoke about living with addiction, after his daughter became addicted to opioids after a health issue for which she was prescribed pain medicine. Austin is an Auburn native and a 1975 graduate of Auburn High School.

“If you’re out there and you think it can’t get you, it can. It affects any class” said Austin. “My daughter grew up in a middle-class home.  It was just your average middle class.”

Austin spoke of having to walk into a morgue to identify your child. “There’s no rewind button. You walk in, your heart sinks. No words come out of your mouth. You start crying. I mean really crying. Like there’s my child. My child is dead.”

“I hope none of you have had to experience it” he went on. “And I hope none of you ever have to experience it. Because it’s brutal.”

Austin finished by holding up a photo of his daughter. “I don’t know if you guys can see it.  This is real. Beth’s not here anymore. I can’t kiss her and I can’t say hello to her anymore.” Austin’s pain was palpable in his voice.

Austin was followed by lighting of candles, and a musical interlude. Rev. Doug Geeze of Faith Church then offered a benediction, attendees extinguished their candles, and they departed in silence.

You can view the entire vigil, including Austin’s words which everyone should hear, at this link.