On the International Overdose Awareness Day people talk about naloxone – and hope for recovery.
Kristi L Nelson, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee

At last year International Overdose Awareness Day, Selena McClelland was in the audience and tried powerfully to shake an addiction that she had fought for 20 years.

This year she was in the staff of Tennessee Overdose Prevention, the non-profit at the base that sponsors the annual event.

It took losing her fiancé last year to overdose to change her path, she said.

"I knew I had lost him after I had lost him," McClelland said. "I did not want another family to go through this, it was time for action."

Next month McClelland will celebrate a year soberly.

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Now, in its fourth year, the Knoxville observation of the international event has always had a consistent theme: "We are recovering." Speaker after speaker hammered Friday night at Volunteer Landing and offered hope to those in the audience who might not be there yet.

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And among those who spoke and who listened, rows of empty shoes symbolized those who did not get that opportunity. In Knox County so far this year, 198 people have died from overdoses, said Tennessee Overdose Prevention founder Nancy Carter Daniels – and she said that many of the attendees on Friday night knew at least seven people who died in the past two weeks.

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Tennessee Overdose Prevention, a proponent of access to the opioid antidote naloxone, sells these shirts as a fundraising. (Photo: Kristi L. Nelson / News Sentinel)

The non-profit organization took the lead in training and spreading the opioid antidote naloxone in the Knoxville area, including in the drug court, said Ron Hanaver, director of the Knox Recovery Court and the Knox County Veterans Treatment Court.

It also called for legislation to make it easier for people to get and deliver the antidote, and has a continuous series of billboards with people whose lives have been saved by naloxone.

Melissa Payne is not one, but she could be. On Friday night she was one of those decoration changes with the names of loved ones who had died of drug use – hers, a man she had dated, though, "I have lost many people to overdoses," she said.

Payne, 38, started using medication 13 years ago and 11 times with an overdose, she said, after she needed three doses of naloxone to come back to life.

But on her tenth time trying to recover, she had reached the fasting day on Friday and continued on a local program with intensive outpatient therapy. This time she wants that austerity more than anything else, she said.

"I want a new life," said Payne, who hopes to regain custody of her two children. "I like feeling free, I do not feel lonely and lost anymore, I feel whole again."

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During the four-hour event, volunteers offered stalls with resources for those struggling with addiction and recovery. At dusk, with the Henley Bridge lit purple to mark the overdose consciousness, the attendees gathered in a circle for a candlelit vigil, naming the names of loved ones who were addicted just before blues musician Michael Crawley & Amazing Grace & # 39; played on the harmonica.

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Rows of shoes on the International Day of Overdose On Consciousness in Volunteer Landing represent those who have died from an overdose. (Photo: Kristi L. Nelson / News Sentinel)

It was the first time Debbie Thompson was there. Thompson lost her 31-year-old son to an overdose last year and recently moved to Knoxville with his two children, of whom she now has custody.

"I wanted to be close to the mountains," Thompson said. "I just need some rest after his death."

She came to Overdose Awareness Day longing to remember him and to make contact with others who understood her loss. She brought photos of him, just in case someone wanted to see him. Her son, she said, tried to be clean for years. He worked in Florida, cleared up storm damage, when the recordings struck and "he went and got a little bit," she said. He did not know "it was directly fentanyl."

"He wanted to stop, and he just could not," Thompson said. And even though she liked hearing people talk about their recovery, "I wish he'd been one of them."

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