CDC data shows the number of Oklahomans dying from opioid overdoses has been trending down, but more than 300 people in Oklahoma died from an overdose in 2018 alone.
On Thursday, a group of activists rallied to raise awareness of the impact of deadly opioid overdoses.
Crosses and pictures lined the Tulsa County Courthouse with the names of loved ones that lost their lives because of addiction. Event planners of Thursday's Opioid Overdose Awareness Rally said that last year there were about 15 families at the rally, and now this year that number has more than doubled in size.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler made his remarks and spoke of these family members’ bravery as they shared their stories.
“Not an easy thing to do, to stand out here in silence and just let you look at their sons and daughters, or brothers and sisters and know that they don’t get to enjoy their company anymore,” said Kunzweiler. “All they get to do is look at memories like a picture like that, and it takes a lot of strength and courage on their part to be able to be here.”
He said, for the longest time people have been afraid to speak up and share their stories, but this is a growing movement lead by those who have been affected themselves.
“[T]hey’re trying to bring light to every other parent in this community. They’re trying to save you,” said Kunzweiler. “Trying to tell you that your son or daughter may be getting to the point where they can get hooked up on opioids and before you know it they’re going to be a cross or a sign sitting outside the Tulsa County Court House.”
Kunzweiler said Oklahoma is one of the first states to target opioid manufacturers, but it doesn’t stop there.
“A lot of people pretend that they don’t want to pay attention it, but the reality is our children are being killed by opioids, and that plague has been silent,” said Kunzweiler. “There needs to be a highlight on what addiction is. It’s a disease and people need help. I’m not going to pretend that somebody can just wish their way-out cancer. I’m not going to pretend that somebody can wish out of getting out of an addiction.”
He said the support from the Attorney General and law enforcement is there, but we still need to get the legislature on board.
“[Families Helping Families is] trying to point out to the justice system that something needs to be done,” said Kunzweiler. “And the DA’s Office and law enforcement, we’re listening to them. We need to get our legislature on board, and we need to get them to start listening, too. We need to be more active about attacking this opioid problem and going after those individuals who are actually the dealers who’ve caused these young men and women to die earlier than they needed to.”
Gina Hunter is a mother and the ex-wife of Todd Ferman, who died from an overdose earlier this year.
“He loved his two daughters and they loved him,” said Hunter. “Addiction took him away from them during periods of his life, but toward the end he was trying to get clean. He was trying to get back to them, which makes it even harder.”
Hunter said it's time to stop the stigma, because these climbing numbers are more than a statistic.
“Todd was the type of person that he had a huge heart. Up until a week before he died, if someone needed something, he would give it to them,” said Hunter. “He let other people come and stay with him who didn’t have a place to stay. He gave them jobs with his lawn company. He tried to help them the best that he could.”
Hunter said drugs have struck the states for far too long, and she's afraid COVID-19's added stress will lead to an increase in addiction. She told News On 6 that it starts with a conversation.
“It’s very empowering to see other families, because there’s quite a stigma attached to addiction, even though we know it’s a disease and we know that good, good people get caught up in addiction. So, this is a very empowering event for us,” Hunter said.
Hunter told News On 6 that we need more resources and more rehab beds for victims like her daughter's dad, who she said didn't get the help he was ready to receive.
“We need to have enough rehab beds that when someone makes the decision to go to rehab, they don’t have to wait a month and a half,” said Hunter. “Unfortunately, for Todd, he made those steps. He was taking medication to get to rehab, and that call saying that a bed was available came the day after he died.”
According to the CDC, nearly 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, you don’t have to navigate this on your own. For more information on resources available, click here.
“For those out there struggling with addiction, please, please seek help,” said Hunter. “Get on the list. Do what you can to get clean. You may not have another tomorrow.”