LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Tuesday, August 31st marks International Overdose Awareness Day. It’s a day to remember those lost to an overdose and end the stigma of overdose death.
One Arkansas mom is sharing her own story of loss to let others know they are not alone.
“Parker was the sweetest, kindest. He had a huge heart,” Paula Cunningham, Founder of the Parker Gill Foundation said.
Photos are all that Paula Cunningham has left of her beautiful boy.
“He loved people. He had the greatest hugs and the biggest smile,” Cunningham said.
In 2018, at 20 years old, Parker Gill died of an opioid-related overdose.
“Any child loss creates this huge void in your life. A loss from an overdose has stigma attached to that as well,” Cunningham said.
On Tuesday, she’ll join other moms like her, and those who have lost a loved one to an overdose, as part of International Overdose Awareness Day.
“When you are together with a group of people like that, you don’t feel so alone. They are experiencing the same thing that you are experiencing,” Cunningham said.
They’ll walk the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge in Little Rock for the 2nd Annual Bridge the Gap event, spreading the message that overdose death is preventable.
“People are dying every day to the disease of addiction and overdose,” Cunningham said.
Overdose deaths have skyrocketed in the past year nationwide. In Arkansas, 547 Arkansans died of an overdose in 2020 compared to 342 in 2019, a 55 percent increase.
Arkansas State Drug Director Kirk Lane said the pandemic is to blame.
“The desperation, the isolation, lack of treatment facilities, and the lack of face-to-face contact caused a lot of stress on a community of people suffering from substance use disorder,” State Drug Director, Kirk Lane said.
Cunningham is making it her mission to bring that number to zero, so other moms aren’t left with just a memory.
“I can’t do anything to bring my son back, but I can do something that might help someone else,” Cunningham said.
Whether you’ve lost a loved on to an overdose, are in recovery, or simply want to show your support, you’re invited to the 2nd Annual Bridge the Gap event will be held at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge in Little Rock.
The bridges over the river will be lit purple at sunset and those in attendance are asked to wear purple to show their support.