Local emergency shelter observes overdose awareness day

Angela Lopez was one of many who stood in the rain outside of the Beacon of Hope Emergency Shelter in Winchester and released a black balloon into the sky.

They were gathered for the shelter’s first balloon release on Tuesday to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day, which is an internationally coordinated event designed to remember those who have died and acknowledge the grief of those they left behind.

Lopez, the director of the shelter’s 90-day rehabilitation program, said she participated to honor her brother, Christopher Hatton, who tragically passed away at the age of 28 to an overdose in 2005.

“He is truly missed,” Lopez said. “He never got to have kids or get married. I never got to have nieces or nephews.”

She was not the only staff member to lose someone she loved due to addiction issues.

Lori Couch, a peer support specialist at the shelter, lost her husband, Josh Strange, due to complications from drug use.

“My husband died from heart complications with drugs in his system in 2009. I was a widow at 26,” Couch said. “After that is was friend after friend after friend [dying of overdoses]. It just continues to go on and not stop.”

Drug overdose death statistics made headlines nationwide during the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
2020 saw a sharp increase in overdose deaths across Kentucky according to a report by the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. 1,964 Kentuckians overdosed in 2020 compared to 1,316 in 2019. In Clark County, that number saw a one-year increase from 15 overdose deaths in 2019 to 35 in 2020.

The shelter’s founder and director, Michele Bradford, said the event was also to “show people that there is hope out there” and that help is never far away.

“It’s very important,” Bradford said when asked how important it for those with addiction issues to find support. “They are going to stay in the madness if they don’t have people that care about them, love them and try to show them that there is a different way of life.”

Lopez said that she is a recovering addict and that after she finished a six-month jail sentence she had “nowhere to go”. So she came to Beacon of Hope to do her did her court-mandated treatment program and it changed her life.

“They loved me when I felt like nobody else loved me,” she said. “They gave me hope when I came here when I got out of jail. They encouraged me and they pushed me to be the best person I could possibly be.”

Bradford said she founded Beacon of Hope because God impressed it upon her heart to open a place where those in need could find immediate shelter. The shelter opened in 2015 and moved to its present location at 850 Bypass Road in 2016. It is a six-month facility that offers case management, job placement, peer support, a savings program, and therapy.