NEW BEDFORD- The Greater New Bedford Opioid Task Force organized an event on Thursday night as part of International Overdose Awareness Day.

The event began at the steps of City Hall where event organizers and a crowd of about 60 people gathered to share experiences and remember loved ones lost to addiction and overdoses. Mayor of New Bedford Jon Mitchell, State Representative Antonio Cabral, and Chief of Police Joseph Cordeiro spoke at City Hall about the effects the national opioid crisis has had on the Whaling City and in Massachusetts.

New Bedford’s Police Chief has been a known leader in the fight against addiction as he and Mayor Jon Mitchell teamed up to arm all police officers in the city with Narcan in response the increases in deaths by overdose over the past few years.

“1,990 human beings lost their life in 2016 to an overdose. And that number does not reflect the multiple numbers of those that are still suffering from overdoses,” said Chief Cordeiro.

Those in the crowd put a face to Chief Cordeiro’s statistic as the steps outside of City Hall filled with family members representing their loved ones who have been lost to an overdose. Former addicts and those actively fighting an addiction made up a large section of the crowd as well.

Lieghanna Ciukha is now sober after battling addiction throughout her life. She also says that many of her friends and family members succumbed to overdoses. Ciukha came to the event to help spread awareness of the dangers of addiction and the lasting effects it has on not only the user but their family and friends as well.

“I’m so grateful for being sober now,” Ciukha said. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. It used to be a dark place but now I’ve found the light and it’s been great. I’ve lost so many friends and family members from this disease and I don’t want to go through this anymore.”

A vigil and procession towards Pilgrim Church followed speeches given by elected officials at City Hall. Tim Dunn/TSM

Following the opening ceremony at City Hall a procession formed and led towards Pilgrim Church on Purchase Street where a candlelight service was held to remember those lost to overdoses. The drop-in center across the street provided refreshments and resources to help those battling addiction prior to the service.