Purple Flags Bring Public Awareness to Overdose Victims

CCB MEDIA PHOTO Purple flags were placed at the Mashpee Rotary to honor those in the state who died from drug overdoses last year.

Purple flags were placed at the Mashpee Rotary to honor those in the state who died from drug overdoses last year.

BARNSTABLE – Purple flags were placed around the Cape over Father’s Day weekend to remember victims who have died of heroin and other opioid overdoses.

A total of 1,008 flags were placed at the Mashpee Rotary, in front of the former Marstons Mills Elementary School on Route 28, and at the Orleans Rotary to represent the number of opioid overdose deaths across the state in 2014, excluding Boston, Worcester and Springfield.

Two local organizations that focus on substance abuse, Communities United for a Drug Free Environment and Mashpee Cares, organized the flag display.

Communities United for a Drug Free Environment was started by Marstons Mills resident Tom Fagan and his wife after the overdose death of their son Isaiah last fall.

Fagan said the goal of the flag displays was to keep the public aware of the damage that addiction can have.

“We want to keep it in the public eye to know how serious this is,” Fagan said. “They represent human beings who were lost to a disease that wasn’t treated properly.”

Fagan said he participated in placing the flags to honor his son and to help others.

“I don’t want other people to lose their children and loved ones,” he said. “This is not going to have an immediate effect but after a while we are going to save lives.”

The Office of Community Health at Cape Cod Healthcare donated the funds to pay for all the flags planted across the Cape.

“We think that any opportunity to increase awareness is important,” Cape Cod Healthcare Executive Director of Substance Abuse Prevention and Public Health Initiatives Cheryl Bartlett said. “And I think it’s really important for the parents to have a way to take their grief and experience and share it with others.”

Bartlett hopes that people seeing the flags will continue the dialogue of the opioid problem.

“The more of us that know what the purple flag represents, the more we can talk about that these losses are continuing to happen,” she said. “We need to collectively come together and try to have an impact in a positive way.”

Fagan said the idea of the purple flags came from The Herren Project Purple Project Initiative, which was started by former NBA and Boston College basketball player Chris Herren.

Herren, who grew up in Fall River, has battled with heroin addiction and speaks around the country, including on Cape Cod, about his struggle.

The Project Purple Initiative was launched to break the stigma of addiction, bring awareness to the dangers of substance abuse and encourage positive decision making.

Governor Charlie Baker released the recommendations of an 18-person task force on substance abuse on Monday.

The task force said drug addiction must be considered a medical disease and the report focused on prevention, education, intervention, treatment and recovery.

Bartlett said the timing of the flag project with the release of the report works well.

“We need to keep this out there,” she said. “It’s easy sometimes with something that is so complicated to get fatigue about our efforts, our awareness and education, so I was really pleased that some of these parent groups wanted to get out there and do something and to try to support them.”

Fagan said he tried to help his son many times to overcome his addiction problems and hopes things can be done to keep others alive.

“That’s the reason why I’m so adamant about long-term quality treatment,” he said. “That we do this thing the right way the first time and we cover all the bases before we just rush in and do something and find out this is not going to work and have more deaths.”

The flags are expected to remain through today.

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