NORRISTOWN, Pa. - Signs in hand, dozens of people converged on the Montgomery County Court House in Norristown Thursday, trying to raise awareness about a growing epidemic: drug overdoses.
Experts say there were over 3,500 overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2015 alone, and the crisis shows no signs of slowing down.
"Everybody knows someone, I believe, today who's died from the disease," said Kim Rubenstein, Executive Director of the group 'Be Part of the Conversation.'
On Thursday - dubbed International Overdose Awareness Day in communities around the nation and the world - Mary Nixon, of The New Leaf Club, said she wants to help remove the stigma surrounding drug addiction.
"It is a devastating disease," she said. "And we need to raise awareness that this is an illness. It's not a bad behavior. It's not a fault. It is an illness."
Even officials and law enforcement are changing their approach to those who abuse illegal or prescription drugs, choosing instead to focus more on the source of the problem.
"We are looking at these cases when we have an overdose as a homicide, and we are running them as a homicide investigation," said Montgomery County D.A. Michael Steele. "Our police departments have joined with us to work these cases in that fashion. And we are successfully getting to the point to be able to arrest people on a charge called Drug Delivery Resulting in Death."
Meantime, leaders in Bensalem, Bucks County announced an unprecedented move to sue six big-name pharmaceutical companies.
They claim the companies like Purdue and Johnson & Johnson spent years creating the impression that the drugs are safe treatments for pain.
In a statement, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, in part:
"We are a leader of the only meaningful investigation into the manufacture, marketing and distribution of opioid painkillers. Pennsylvanians are fed up."
Other events scheduled Thursday in the fight against overdose and addiction awareness include a candlelight vigil and recovery walk at James Atkinson Park in Sewell, N.J. and a moment of silence on Roosevelt Plaza across from Camden City Hall.
Organizers say the moment of silence will pay tribute to the 142 lives lost each day to drug overdoses.
FOR MORE: http://montcopa.org/overdose
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