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Valley News Dispatch

Ceremony to solemnize area drug deaths

| Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, 12:21 a.m.

Kyle Sundo's death from a heroin addiction last year just before his 22nd birthday will be foremost on his family's mind Sunday.

They will be participating in a ceremony in New Kensington where people from the Alle-Kiski Valley will grieve for their loved ones who died from drug abuse and bring attention to the growing opioid epidemic that is claiming many lives.

“This is a day to remember those who we have lost and who we miss, and to also pray for those who are suffering and bring awareness to people that this is a horrible disease,” said Jeannie Sundo, of Harrison. She buried her son in April on his 22nd birthday.

Nationwide and in Pennsylvania, the government, the medical community, law enforcement and other experts are searching for solutions to address the opioid crisis.

But for the dead and those they left behind, an answer hasn't come soon enough. In 2015, there were more than 3,300 drug overdose deaths in the state, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

The event in New Kensington, organized by Lost Dreams Awakening and the Addiction Policy Forum Families Committee, is part of a National Day of Remembrance for victims of drug abuse.

Sundo is affiliated with Lost Dreams Awakening, a nonprofit addiction counseling center and support group in New Kensington.

The ceremony will include a reading of names of those who died from drug addiction and an “open mic” session for attendees to share.

It will also feature training on the use of Narcan, an emergency medicine used to reverse and block the effects of opioids.

A limited supply of Narcan kits will be given to those who receive training.

The National Day of Remembrance, a project of the Addiction Policy Forum, is a yearly event that brings together community groups, religious organizations and people mourning the death of loved ones who died from drug overdose.

Sundo said that her son's sudden death was a wake-up call for her, bringing the problems of addiction to the forefront.

“If you watch the news, you understand what is going on in our neighborhoods,” she said. “A lot of families in the area are affected by this disease. But really everybody is affected — I don't care who you are. We have to find a way to come together and help people.”

Sundo's sister, Barb Penn, also of Harrison, said that the event is about community and understanding.

“It's about sticking together and helping one another through grief and understanding,” Penn said. “I think it helps with the stigma that is out there for addicts.”

Laurie Johnson-Wade, one of the founders of Lost Dreams Awakening, noted the widespread effect on families statewide, saying that on average more than 10 people die each day from addiction.

She said events like the National Day of Remembrance are important for the families recovering from such deaths.

Johnson-Wade said family members often feel a great sense of guilt that sometimes inhibits their ability to move on.

“It's really about offering support and hope to families that there is life after death,” she said. “It's our duty to participate in things like this. The people that die usually are people who we have contact with.

“That's the essence of it: supporting people through that process of healing,” she said. “A lot of family members feel guilt and remorse, that they somehow played a role in that death.”

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675 or mmedsger@tribwebcom.

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