October 23, 2021

Remembrance tree ceremony honors opioid overdose victims

It affects everybody

Overdose remembrance tree

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

Kevin Russell decorates the Overdose Remembrance Tree on Monday night at Family Counseling Services at 165 Main St. in Cortland.

Five volunteers worked Monday night to decorate the Christmas tree at the Family Counseling Center at 165 Main St. The purple ornaments were hand-lettered with the names people in Central New York who have died of a drug overdoses.

The purpose of 607-315 Healing Hearts: To remember and honor them.

“This is to bring awareness to the problem,” said Dean O’Gorman, who lost his son Spencer to overdose in 2017. “Each name has been read out loud. Then we put them on the tree. We do want to hear our children’s names. It’s part of the healing process.”

The group put up about two dozen ornaments on the tree in Cortland; on another tree in Syracuse, they put up 58 ornaments. The volunteer group covers a five-county area, including Cortland, Onondaga, Oswego, Madison and Cayuga counties, O’Gorman said.

The larger purpose of the group’s efforts is to raise awareness about the pervasiveness of drug addiction. Four people in Cortland County died of opioid overdose in 2018, state data show. Naloxone, which staves off an opioid overdose, was administered 27 times.

Both numbers are down from 2017, when state data show 14 people died and naloxone was administered 39 times.

“It affects everybody,” said volunteer Kevin Russell.

“Upper class, lower class — it affects everybody,” said O’Gorman.

They also seek to catch the attention of other parents who, like them, have lost adult children to overdose.

Like Karlene Shafer, who lost her daugher Nicole Sherman to overdose in 2017. Shafer said friends pointed her to the Parents Grief Group that meets twice monthly at Cortland Prevention Resources, and she has been a member of the group ever since.

“The hardest part is getting to the first meeting,” said O’Gorman, who is also a member. “It’s as much comforting as it is heart-breaking.”

Monday’s ceremony was sponsored by 607-315 Healing Hearts with support from Cortland Prevention Resources and the Prevention Network of Syracuse.

“We couldn’t do this without them,” O’Gorman said.

The tree was donated three years ago by Lowe’s Home Improvement in Cortlandville.