HENDERSON — Members of Forgotten Victims of Vance, Granville, Franklin and Warren County gathered at the Vance County Courthouse on Sunday afternoon to commemorate those who had lost their lives to drugs like fentanyl.
Co-founder Patricia Drewes created two banners that displayed the faces of drug overdose victims, and said that many people reached out to her about adding pictures of their loved ones to help combat the growing drug epidemic in the United States.
“We wound up redoing both banners,” Drewes said. “I believe we got about 16 more faces on those banners, but we also made crosses that had the names, picture and a write-up on each person that had passed.”
Spreading awareness about the dangers of drugs and drug distribution has been a very personal cause for Drewes, who lost her daughter Heaven Leigh Nelson to a fentanyl overdose on Jan. 28, 2019.
Drewes did not want to see another parent in the region deal with a similar loss and partnered with Nancy Ellington to form Forgotten Victims, which holds meetings once a month to provide helpful information and resources on drug use.
Saturday marked the second year in which Forgotten Victims displayed at least one banner at the Vance County Courthouse, but Drewes wanted to put in extra effort to get across the emotional message behind the group’s mission.
Kelly Pendley, who lost her son Patrick to a drug overdose last year, put together all of the crosses that were placed in front of the courthouse. Henderson Police Chief Marcus Barrow and former state Sen. Erica Smith — who’s running for a U.S. Senate seat — also attended the event.
Drewes stressed the importance of holding rallies in the middle of concerning trends regarding drug-related deaths. A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control revealed that over 81,000 Americans died from a drug overdose between June 2019 and May 2020.
Although overdose deaths had started to increase during the second half of 2019, additional studies have shown that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated conditions that favor substance abuse like social isolation and mental health issues.
Drewes anticipates the drug overdose trend to get worse as Americans continue to struggle during the pandemic, but is adamant that lawmakers need to ramp up efforts to punish those who funnel and distribute drugs to the population.
“Every single one of these cases warrants an investigation,” Drewes said. “When [a distributor] adds fentanyl, that’s not just an overdose, it’s murder. We have death by distribution laws, and I have no idea why we aren’t enforcing them. Of all the names on those crosses, only one has seen a prosecution in their death.”
While Drewes hopes her efforts are successful in preventing more overdoses, she wants to see more action at the local, state and federal level taken against fentanyl in particular, which is the drug that directly resulted in the death of her daughter.
Originally developed for pharmaceutical purposes to treat pain in cancer patients, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. Illicitly-manufactured fentanyl has been primarily responsible for the increased drug overdoses in the U.S., as it is mixed in with heroin or cocaine to increase euphoric effects with or without the user’s consent.
Drewes said that the black-market supply chain for fentanyl needs to be disrupted to decrease the amount of drug-related deaths and plans to take her cause and determination to the U.S. capital in just under a month.
“I’m going to Washington D.C. next,” Drewes said. “April Badcock is the founder of Lost Voices of Fentanyl and lost her son too. She’s having a rally at the Chinese embassy because fentanyl comes straight from China and to the cartels before it goes into the U.S..”
Drewes added that Forgotten Victims intends to maintain an active presence around the region to keep people educated about drugs and ensuring that struggling and recovering addicts are getting the assistance they deserve.