Loved ones honor those lost to addiction on International Overdose Awareness Day

Since 2001, Aug. 31 has been recognized internationally as a day to bring awareness to overdose deaths and honor those who fell victim to it.

International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.

UWK spoke with a pair of parents who have lost their children to overdoses and aimed to bring awareness to the campaign.

Faith Elizabeth Varnado

Faith Elizabeth Varnado

Sharon Phenald said her daughter Faith Varnado, left to spend the weekend with her boyfriend in February and she never saw her alive again.

“I texted her and said, ‘Are you coming home? You have work tomorrow’,”Phenald said. “She didn’t come home, and I called, and I called. Then the detective answered, and I said, ‘Who am I speaking with?’ He told me she was dead and died of fentanyl. She kissed her baby goodbye; that was the last time we saw her.”

Varnado had a young daughter at the time of her death. Phenald said her daughter graduated from Zachary High and attended Southeastern, earning a spot on the president’s list.

Phenald said Varnado dropped out of school in her junior year. Varnado worked at PJ’s Coffee in Zachary and the shop closed to attend her service.

“There were over 200 people there,” she recalled. “That says a lot about her. She was amazing. She was funny and had a smile that could light up the night. She was always smiling and upbeat. She was great. She was so loved. She couldn’t see herself the way we saw her.

“We are all devastated,” she added. “She was an addict but didn’t deserve to die from fentanyl. She dabbled in weed and stuff like that, but I know if she knew what she was taking was fentanyl, she never would have touched it.”

Blair Miller

Blair Miller

Monica Gill said her son Blair Miller died in 2019 from an accidental overdose. She said her son battled addiction for over 20 years.

Gill said Miller did well in high school but dropped out because of drug use. She said she has tried to bring awareness to drug overdoses in different ways.

“Everyone has this stigma that ‘they chose to take this drug,’ and that’s not the way everyone’s story is,” Gill declared. “He was prescribed something by a doctor as a teenager, and it turned into what it was. To see him do that is heartbreaking because that is your son. You love him and try to do everything to help him. He said many times he was ready for help, and there were places we put him in for help; he would stay three days or two weeks. It seemed to help, but he would fall back into that same rut.”

Gill said she has learned much since her son died by participating in groups and attending meetings.

“I have learned that there is a lot more to this than ‘I just want to be high’,'” she said. “They don’t want to be an addict. They would never tell you this is their lifetime goal to be an addict. Their brain, once they reach a certain point, their brain won’t let them stop. Some people can get through it, and some people can’t.”

Gill said those who suffer from addiction deserve to be loved and should be treated like such.

“They’re still a person,” she said. “They are still a father, brother, uncle, son, and a member of society. They just make bad choices initially and can’t help it after that. They need to know they are loved, thought about, and prayed for. You can give them a call and go see them. You can always say you won’t give them money or a ride, but still tell them I love you, I am praying for you and will help you in other ways.”

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