Oftentimes, balloons can represent happiness, joy, and even freedom; but Black Balloon Day, held annually on March 6th, represents those who have overdosed and died, and those impacted by overdose-related deaths, as well as to show support for those who have lost loved ones.
According to Overdose Lifeline Inc, Black Balloon Day was started by Diane Hurley, Greg’s mother-in-law, and Lauren Hurley, Greg’s sister-in-law.
and has its origins with the passing of Greg Tremblay, a father of four who died of an opioid overdose at just 38 years old back on March 6th, 2015.
Tragically, Greg’s passing was not a solitary event; according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016 alone, over 64,000 Americans died from overdoses – including both illicit drugs and prescription opioids, which have doubled in a decade. The problem is so severe that over 48 million people aged 12 and older take prescription drugs for recreational purposes.
Further, figures show an alarming trend in the growing dependency of opioid drugs and the devastating consequences they have. From 2002 to 2015 there was a 2.8-fold increase in the total number of deaths. And according to Overdose Lifeline Inc, 42,000+ overdose deaths related to prescription opioids and illicit opioids (heroin and illicit fentanyl).
This year’s Black Balloon Day event was hosted at the Refuge Center of Houston, an addiction resources center. But for those people who don’t live in League City, they’re encouraged to hang a black balloon outside their homes or businesses to show awareness of those lost to the scourge of addiction.
Lauren Hurley, one of the co-organizers, says “When it happens, it’s a feeling you will never understand until it happens to you” – thoughts echoed by Greg’s daughter Briana Tremblay. “It’s been a tough year at home and at school. I didn’t realize how bad it was until my dad died.”
Greg wasn’t the only addict in the immediate family either. Lauren’s brother Sean Hurley battled addiction but has now been clean for a year. According to CBS Boston, their cause has generated a lot of attention on social media with over 8,000 people joining the cause.
In Olean, New York, the event was marked by both the appearance of the balloons outside of homes and businesses, then the release of them the following day. According to the Olean Times Herald, about 40 people gathered in the cold for the balloon release that was put together by Winning Olean Back, an Olean addiction support group. Said Shannon Scott, its executive director, “I think we had a great turnout. I didn’t know what to expect, being it was a last-minute thing, but it was really nice and I’m glad people came out and showed their support for the education of addiction and overdose and to pay respects to loved ones lost.”
Black Balloon Day is spreading across the nation, too. While official figures aren’t in yet, the event was recognized in many towns across the country including Buffalo, NY, Buckhannon, WV, Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Stoneham, MA – to mention just a few. According to the Inter-Mountain, based in West Virginia, the event was presided over by Mayor David McCauley who said: “As with many things with the opioid epidemic, Black Balloon Day began with a family’s loss.”
Matt Kerner, executive director of Opportunity House that also participated in the Buckhannon Black Balloon Day event, said it’s a reminder “that these folks who we have lost to overdose are human beings who had families who loved them.” He added, “They left behind parents, spouses, and children and others who loved them and who they loved.”
Kerner went on to talk about the importance of events such as Black Balloon Day, saying that participation allows people to realize how devastating the effects of overdoses can be, adding, “that addiction doesn’t discriminate.”
“Anyone is eligible to become addicted, and that realization can help break the stigma that surrounds addiction — and that change in public perception will lead to changes in public policies regarding how we treat addiction,” said Kerner.
The nature of the Black Balloon Day event is to be all-inclusive; it’s not just about mourning the loss of a loved one but recognizing those left behind. According to the Record Herald, Vicki Rhodes will forever be dealing with the fatal overdose of her daughter Teri who died at 41.
“I want people not to be ashamed of it. People are too embarrassed to say it. If we don’t talk about it, people don’t realize the devastation in our community,” Vicki said. “I feel a strong need to feel like I’m doing something to honor her and remember her,” said Vicki – and this is why Black Balloon Day is gaining national prominence and attention.
Lauren Hurley said, “to show them they aren’t the only people [that] lost a parent or [lost] their children. Every day this is happening. “Even if one person sees a balloon and thinks ‘I could be the person that someone could be hanging the balloon out for’…in my eyes, we did something right.”