Nonprofit leaders and elected officials across the west suburbs and the West Side gathered at Scoville Park in Oak Park on Aug. 31 to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day.

Representatives with a variety of drug treatment and harm reduction organizations such as the Way Back Inn, the West Side Heroin Task Force, Live 4 Lali, NAMI Metro Suburban joined elected officials from Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Maywood and Austin to remember people who lost their lives to opioid overdoses and to raise awareness about drug and overdose prevention.

State Rep. La Shawn K. Ford (8th), the West Side Heroin Task Force founder, said he lost two close relatives to overdoses.

“The thing about this disease is that it’s international,” he said. “So no matter what color you are or what community you’re from, we are united today because it’s attacking all of our communities and families. I lost my favorite uncle, who used to take me to the racetrack and taught me how to bet on the horses. I also lost my favorite cousin, who allowed me to cut his hair even though I had no clue what I was doing. Those are two dear people I’ve lost to the heroin opioid crisis.”

Ford and his Task Force are exploring the possibility of bringing Overdose Prevention Sites to the Chicago area. So far, the only two in the country are located in New York City. The locations allow people to use drugs in spaces supervised by professional staffers who intervene if they see anyone who has overdosed. Proponents of the sites argue that they help prevent overdoses and decrease the amount of drug use in public areas.

Representatives from Live 4 Lali, a community recovery center in Addison, were at the commemoration to provide Narcan training for anyone willing to learn and fentanyl test strips.

The center’s mission is “to reduce stigma and prevent substance use disorder among individuals, families, and communities, and minimize the overall health, legal and social harms associated with substance use,” according to its website. Anyone can request free delivery of syringes, snorting kits and other equipment.

Sarah Goggin Young, a recovering addict and alcoholic who overdosed 22 years ago, said she has been sober for 18 years. On Aug. 31, she shared her survival story.

“I had everything going for me,” she said, adding that she was on her way to play Division I collegiate sports when she blew out her knee.

“Our thoughts create our words, our words create actions, our actions create our habits, our habits create our character, and our character determines our destiny,” she said. “I’m a clear example of that. I let the thoughts, the stigma, the shame, and the failure change everything in my life. I changed my actions. I stopped working out. I stopped hanging around people who lifted me up and supported me. That changed my character and it changed the trajectory of my life.”