Hundreds walk down Lincoln Street during an overdose awareness walk in 2016. (Jesse Major/Peninsula Daily News)

Overdose Awareness Walk returns next Thursday in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles Citizen Action Network and Oxford House will host the third annual Overdose Awareness Walk in Port Angeles next Thursday with hopes of spreading awareness and saving lives, said Angie Gooding, founder of the Port Angeles Citizen Action Network, or PA CAN.

“It’s really positive event where there has been a lot of community support even though it’s a tough topic,” she said. “We’re raising awareness and addressing it in a way that is not adding to the negative stigma.”

Clallam County has one of the worst opioid overdose death rates in the state.

Between 2011 and 2015, Clallam County had the second highest overdose death rate in the state and sat nearly 50 percent over the state average, according to the state Department of Health.

The walk is scheduled to start in front of the Clallam County Courthouse bell tower at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 31. The group will walk north and finish at City Pier, where there will be multiple speakers.

State Rep. Mike Chapman, D-Port Angeles; the Rev. Joe DeScala of Mended; members of the recovery community; survivors; and others will speak, Gooding said.

“As a person who doesn’t deal with addiction in my personal life, it’s empowering to hear how [others] have overcome [addiction] or they found hope in their lives,” she said.

Gooding said speakers “humanize” the addiction crisis in a way that others can connect with.

“Even if they have lost someone, they are there to emphasize how important it is to learn more so it doesn’t happen to other people that we love,” she said.

DeScala said he will be sharing a message of hope when he speaks. When he helped with a recovery program, DeScala got to know people in recovery and developed a compassion for them, he said.

He called the annual walk eye-opening and said he is honored to speak during the event.

“It’s certainly an issue that touches every single person in this community,” DeScala said. “You just see the number of different people that are affected by heroin — and other drugs — in this town.”

DeScala said people should attend to gain a better understanding about how addiction affects the community.

“Once you are aware of the problem, you can look at ways to help,” he said.

Gooding said she is thankful for those who have organized the walk in the past. PA CAN has supported the walk before, but it was the previous organizers who made it successful, she said.

“For most people that have planned it in the past, this is an issue that has been affecting our community, and it’s not just affecting individuals,” she said.

Last year, about 250 people attended the event, but this year, Gooding hopes upward of 300 will participate.

People are encouraged to bring signs to hold during the walk, pictures of loved ones and anything else to get their message across.

The walk is just one of hundreds planned across the world on International Overdose Awareness Day.

There are at least 252 walks scheduled in the United States, according to OverdoseDay.com.

International Overdose Awareness Day has been a key event in remembrance of those who have died from fatal drug overdoses since 2001.

Last year, there were 62 reported opioid overdoses in Clallam County, six of which were fatal, according to county data.

The inaugural Port Angeles event was in August 2015 and was organized by Julia Keegan, Dr. Joel Yelland and Gwen Hullette.

Last year’s event was planned by Amy Miller and Brianna Kelly, Gooding said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at jmajor@peninsuladailynews.com.