Town of Montgomery residents, last Monday, observed National Overdose Awareness Day by honoring those they have lost.
A ceremony was held at the Drug Overdose Awareness Memorial on East Main Street in the Village of Walden. Community members came together to call out the names of more than 260 individuals that they knew and lost due to overdose. Residents also shared stories of those they lost.
“It was a beautiful ceremony of remembrance, support and awareness,” said Walden Trustee Patricia Maher.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 70,630 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2019.
“I have learned in my training that it only takes a sprinkle of fentanyl to become poisoned forever and once addicted - ONLY three percent have the ability to escape their addiction,” Patricia Maher said regarding the training she received on the Town of Montgomery Opioid & Drug Task Force.
In May, Walden became home to Orange County’s first Drug Overdose Awareness Memorial. The memorial in Walden consists of a fence, where people can place “love locks” representing loved ones they have lost to drug overdose, as well as a bench where anyone is welcome to sit, reflect and pray.
Jody Nicoli, a lifelong Village of Walden resident and recovering addict, spearheaded the birth of the memorial. During an emotional ribbon cutting ceremony on May 22, she reminded everyone present that this is not just a tribute to those who lost their battle with drugs, but is also a place to seek comfort for those who continue to fight their battle every day.
“This is something that is really important to me,” Nicoli said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “Being that I’m in recovery, I know that one of these locks could have easily been me.”
During the ribbon cutting ceremony, Nicoli reflected on her drug problems in addition to the friends she has lost due to overdose.
“Ever since I was a teenager, I have struggled with an addiction to drugs and alcohol,” Nicoli explained to a crowd of over 50 people.
“Over those years I have lost so many friends to overdose. When the pandemic started, I noticed more and more people I knew and cared about were losing their lives to this horrible disease.”
Nicoli went on to explain that it was when one of her friends died of an overdose that she got the idea for the memorial – a place to raise awareness but also memorialize the lives and deaths of these individuals.
“As this fence fills up with locks, I want people to see how each one represents a person who was a mother, father, brother, sister, husband, wife,” she said. “They had a life before addiction, but it was over too soon.”
Nicoli reached out to the village board with her idea for the memorial, where it unanimously passed. Local business owners including Roger Wild, Ralph DiMartino and Ed Burgess donated their time, supplies and labor to build the memorial at no cost.
Montgomery Town Supervisor Brian Maher thanked Nicoli for helping create the memorial which ultimately inspired last Monday’s event.
“This event would not have happened without local resident Jody Nicoli spearheading the effort with her amazing team and the support of Walden leaders,” he said. “I want to thank Jody and many others for joining our Town of Montgomery Opioid & Drug Task Force where we will work year round to better educate ourselves and our community at large on the opioid epidemic.”