Chairs were left empty in public buildings across Sampson County on Friday, a powerful symbol of someone lost due to overdose — be it a mother, a father, a sibling, a child, a co-worker or a friend.
Many in the county observed National Overdose Awareness Day by leaving a vacant chair in a prominent place within their government building or work space. The effort was sponsored by Eastpointe and involved numerous county departments and people around Sampson. Each empty chair had a piece of paper on it, explaining the initiative and the importance of awareness.
“Help us remember the lives we have lost due to overdose, prevent and create awareness about drug overdose and celebrate those in recovery,” the paper reads. “Every day we see lives around us being changed and lost to overdose. Overdose does not discriminate. That empty chair could be you or someone you love, a friend, colleague or your neighbor.”
Throughout the day Friday, photos were posted on the Sampson County Facebook page of chairs set out at various locations.
The Sampson County Substance Abuse Coalition, hard at work planning for the upcoming S.C.O.P.E. (Sampson County Opioid Prevention and Education) 4 Hope Summit, were one of the many groups that left a chair vacant. Among many other places, empty chairs could be seen at the Sampson County Administration Building, the Sampson Agri-Exposition Center, Sampson Area Transportation, Sampson County Health Department, the Sampson-Clinton Public Library System and others, including the Town of Salemburg.
The county posted a message for each.
“Overcoming drug addiction is an uphill climb, taken one step at a time,” a post showing a chair in the middle of a flight of stairs. “This empty chair at the Sampson County Health Department represents someone who has struggled to take those steps.”
An empty seat on a bus represented someone that Sampson Area Transportation drivers would miss carrying to their medical appointment, job or class, while an empty chair amid a colorful library space represented a parent who is no longer able to join their child at the library’s storytime. Still another at the expo center was for a person who will no longer be able to enjoy a performance, concert or wedding at the facility.
“We are assisting Eastpointe in the promotion of National Overdose Awareness Day. To symbolize the loss of those who are missing — even temporarily — from work, from school, from daily activities, and yes, too often forever from our lives, due to an overdose, we will be setting out an empty chair on August 31,” Assistant county manager Susan Holder said leading up to Friday’s mass observance. “We hope you will join us in this observance.”
She urged participation, even as awareness builds leading up to the S.C.O.P.E. on Sept. 12.
Law enforcement officers, health officials and others locally have attested to opioid abuse’s dramatic impact on a community, and the ripple effect it can have on the user, their family and the rest of the community.
An increase in the number of visits to the local emergency department related to unintentional opiate poisoning, and sometimes death, led local officers to carry Narcan, the drug used to counteract an overdose. Eastpointe helped get the kits when, around a year ago, Clinton Police saw three overdose cases in a week, one resulting in death.
Sampson County Sheriff Jimmy Thornton said four overdose deaths were reported in the county in the third quarter last year alone. Throughout 2017, there were 240 reported overdoses in the Emergency Department at the hospital. According to NC Detect, 198 of those were from medications or drugs, 22 from opiates, 13 from heroin and seven from benzodiazepine.
Holder said the partnership with Eastpointe on National Overdose Awareness Day was just the latest to get the word out of a growing — and national — problem.
“We believe it will be an impactful reminder of our losses due to overdoses,” Holder stated. “(Whether it is) a lobby chair, a seat in a church pew, a school desk, a bench in a park, a work desk chair, a car seat…”
Managing Editor Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 2587.