MANATEE -- No Longer Silent, a group dedicated to giving a voice to drug overdose victims and their family members, is organizing a march on Green Bridge on Monday evening for International Overdose Awareness Day.
The public is invited to join the group on the Palmetto fishing pier by Green Bridge at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Organizers of the Facebook event said participants will be wearing purple, and they encourage people to bring pictures of their addicted or deceased loved ones and signs.
The march will loop around Bradenton's Old Main Street and back up the Green Bridge, ending with a candlelight vigil on the Palmetto pier.
"We're just trying to bring awareness and as many eyes as we can to our group and our cause," said group founder Mariah Battaglia. "We're here, we're not going anywhere, and we want to make a difference."
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About 200 people said they were attending on a Facebook event as of Friday, with more than 3,000 people invited. Battaglia said she expects they'll have more than 200, since the group's first event a couple months ago had about that many people, and they've continued to grow in numbers.
The group is dedicated to removing the stigma from heroin addiction, so addicts and family members won't feel ashamed when they need to seek help. Many organizers of the group, including Battaglia, have had loved ones die of overdoses.
The group will also have
a nonprofit designation as soon as next week, Battaglia said, which will allow them to pursue sponsorships and raise more donations. One of their first goals upon receiving nonprofit status is to start sponsoring addicts who want to go to rehabilitation programs but can't afford it.
"This is an important issue in our community, and it's not going away," Battaglia said.
State Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who said Sunday that he's been following the coverage of the county's heroin epidemic, is expected to attend the march.
"I've heard from community leaders, I've heard from friends and this is a horrible epidemic that is plaguing our community," he said. "I know people and have friends who it has touched in their families, and I want to be part of the solution in getting to the bottom of it. We've made some changes legislatively over the past couple years with the pill mills. ... I want to make sure I'm not exacerbating the situation."
Galvano said he spent time Saturday with a Bradenton police officer to get more perspective on the issue.
"It's going to take all of us working together to address it," he said. "I never imagined that Bradenton, my home, would be a host to such an epidemic of heroin overdosing."
-- Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, contributed to this report.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. You can follow her on Twitter @KateIrby