Black Balloon Day honors lives lost to drug overdoses in Lexington and Richland Counties

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WOLO) — The Lexington/Richland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council held its annual Black Balloon Day — honoring lives lost to drug abuse in Lexington and Richland counties in 2022.

Susan Brunson-Bouknight lost her 27-year-old son, Jacob, to a drug overdose in 2019.

“I didn’t know what an addict looked like. I really didn’t. My vision was completely different until I was in it myself,” says Brunson-Bouknight.

She says Jacob hated his addiction and wanted to change.

“He voiced many times how he wanted a better life and he wanted to be like his brothers. He wanted to get married and have a kid. So to know that his dreams were beyond the disease does my heart good,” says Brunson-Bouknight.

According to LRADAC, 219 people died from drug overdoses in Lexington and Richland counties last year.

The organization had an empty chair set up on the lawn for each life lost.

LRADAC’s President Gayle Aycock says Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than a car accident or to gun violence.

“We have the opportunity to more aggressively be compassionate more than ever. To help ensure next year on Black Balloon Day that the number of chairs on the hill behind me are much less than they are today,” says Aycock.

Susan and her family created a video called “Jacob’s Story” available on YouTube here, in hopes of helping others who are struggling with addiction.

She says there’s still stigma associated with drug abuse for the user and their families — but there shouldn’t be.

“So I want to reduce that stigma so that not only families can come forward but children can say I need help. I need help. Without judgement, without shame, without ridicule, without fear of losing their job, or fear of losing their children for those who have children,” says Brunson-Bouknight.

LRADAC reports that about 90% of overdose deaths involve opioids, and over 80% involves the deadly drug fentanyl.

To help lower those numbers, Director of Prevention Ashley Bodiford with LRADAC says the organization supplies free fentanyl testing strips and the opioid overdose reversal medication Narcan, to anyone who wants it–with no questions asked.

“You don’t have to be a current patient or a former patient. You can just be someone who wants to have this in their toolkit. Someone who just wants to have access to these products. You can walk right in they’ll take a couple minutes to give you an overview and how to store it and you’re good to go!” says Bodiford.

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