Residents visiting city buildings, including City Hall and the Police Headquarters in Southaven, Tuesday were greeted by a strand of black balloons.
It was not an public indication of someone turning a significant age, but rather placed to raise awareness to the growing opioid problem in America.
The state’s third-largest city joined the nation in the observance of Black Balloon Day, a relatively new activity that began following the death of a father of four to drug addiction in 2015.
According to Overdose Lifeline Inc., an Indiana-based nonprofit that deals with drug addiction and promotes Black Balloon Day, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the nation.
There were 63,600 lethal drug overdoses in 2016, they reported.
Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with more than 42,000 overdose deaths related to prescription opioids and illicit opioids, such as heroin and illicit fentanyl.
Overdose Lifeline stated that Black Balloon Day has now gained national and international attention.
The support for the awareness effort has reached Southaven, where Mayor Darren Musselwhite said he has seen the growing statistics locally.
“The last couple of years, our EMS department has brought statistics to me and told me about the calls that we are getting,” Musselwhite said. “It’s an overwhelming and a terrifying trend. We’re seeing people that are having to be resuscitated and some having to lose their life over the addiction to the opiates.”
DeSoto County has the highest number of heroin and opioid-related deaths among Mississippi counties, where statewide 211 such deaths were reported last year.
“Our Southaven EMS team responds to these life-threatening calls now almost daily,” Musselwhite said. “It’s not a Southaven thing but it’s something that is affecting the entire nation. It’s a scary trend and I thought I would do my part to communicate that.”
DeSoto County has taken steps to address the opioid issue, such as including the availability of Narcan, the brand name for a drug that reverses the affects of opioid overdoses, with its Sheriff’s Department deputies on patrol. A number of pharmacies, including the Hernando Kroger Marketplace pharmacy, have started stocking the drug for sale without a prescription.
The Turning Point Addiction Center in Southaven has done effective work in treating addicts in the Mid-South area through its programs from its location on Stateline Road.
“I am as guilty as anyone of viewing addiction as a weakness,” Musselwhite said. “As I’ve gotten older and experienced the devastating effects that addiction can have on people, I realize that this is a risk that affects all of us. Opiates, especially, can end the life of someone who had harmless intentions.”
Musselwhite said he hoped the simple act of black balloons can make residents begin to think about how serious the drug problem is.
“We’re doing our part at the end, which is unfortunate that we respond to the calls with our Emergency Medical Services,” said Musselwhite. “Our hope in doing this is that we would get out in front of this issue more and call awareness to it. It’s something that has to be a collective effort between parents, doctors, pharmacists and people with the schools.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.