Let’s Talk…About Black Balloons and Stigma

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Placing black balloons outside of our Liberty Street Hospital entrance.
MMC employees assisted with placing black balloons outside of select facilities (here at Liberty Street).

March 6 is known as Black Balloon Day, or more specifically, Overdose Memorial Day. It began as a movement in 2016 when Diane and Lauren Hurley wanted to honor Greg Trembly, son-in-law and brother-in-law respectively to the women, who had struggled with opioid addiction and died from an overdose on March 6, 2015.

Coincidentally, it was also in 2015 when Not One More Northwest Pennsylvania was beginning to take root. A group of mothers formed a support group for those affected by the opioid epidemic in Crawford County. The group, Hope for Healing Hearts, became a chapter of the Not One More organization just a year later in 2016. The goal of this parent nonprofit is to provide compassionate support to people struggling with substance use disorder (SUD), to educate the community about drugs and the disease of addiction, and what many feel is still an important and very necessary step in overcoming addiction: eradicating the stigma about this disease.

Cheryl of Hayden House and Jarod, from Meadville Medical Center, prepared the balloons
Cheryl of Hayden House and Jarod, from Meadville Medical Center, prepared 100+ balloons!
Not One More, Northwest Pennsylvania is observing Black Balloon Day 2024 and provided Meadville Medical Center with 100 black balloons to display around MMC facilities, including offices and the hospital on Liberty Street, Alden and Grove Street Facilities, Mind-Body Wellness Center, and One Vernon Place. Hayden House, a women’s recovery housing program on Liberty Street in Meadville and part of Not One More Northwest Pennsylvania program, served as headquarters for getting the black balloons ready and distributed. The very damp and foggy weather conditions on this particular day perhaps reinforced some of the sentiment of sadness and darkness cast by the long lasting effects of overdose deaths. However, there was some excitement and pride from participants helping with the balloons, who quickly sensed that a small gesture was bringing some awareness as passersby began to ask the significance of the black balloons.

John Hartnett, Recovery Service Navigator with MMC’s Stepping Stones program, helps patients through the drug and alcohol treatment process: from admittance and detox, through inpatient care to outpatient treatment, before hopefully beginning a life of recovery. People with substance use disorders must continue to manage the root causes of their addictions for the rest of their lives — recovery never stops.
John and Hayden tying a balloon at Grove Street
John Hartnett secures a balloon outside of the Grove Street Facility with the help of Hayden House’s namesake.
John is available by phone to patients but also to community members and organizations who recognize him as a resource for finding help for those concerned with substance or alcohol use, for themselves, or for loved ones. “Substance use disorders are extremely isolating illness for everyone involved. Knowing when, where, and how to reach out for help is not intuitive,” says Hartnett, who also is very involved with Not One More, Hayden House, as well as Let’s Talk. The latter is an online resource which developed from a previous MMC campaign to bring awareness to the opioid crisis, and remains active today.

There are many more resources available today than in 2016 to begin the process of drug treatment and recovery, but the stigma around addiction remains. Even bringing awareness to resources like a harm reduction vending machine, located between the Liberty Arts Medical Center and Mill Run Complex, is sometimes a challenge. The purpose of something like this machine is to supply items, such as condoms, first-aid kits, and even Narcan and fentanyl tests, that will prevent the spread of disease and death from drug use until an addict can receive proper treatment to live a clean life.

“Overcoming substance use disorders is hard, but the grief of losing a loved one is harder. It’s important to move past the stigma and ask for help. There are many paths to recovery, but a courageous place to start is to ask for help, to talk about it, and especially to talk about it with others who understand what it takes to overcome a substance use disorder, and know there is life beyond drugs and the stigma. So, let’s talk…it helps!”

Please note: Meadville Medical Center has taken precautions to secure and eventually remove the balloons so as not to endanger any wildlife, litter, or pollute! The Overdose Lifeline offers “virtual balloons” should you choose to release and personalize a balloon for Black Balloon Day.

Stepping Stones Contact Information

Meadville Medical Center’s Stepping Stones program is located at our Grove Street Facility and can be reached by phone at: 814-333-5810. John Hartnett, Recovery Service Navigator, can be reached directly at: 814-333-3916.

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