With posters, t-shirts and other memorabilia, hundreds of people honored those they had lost to drug overdoses.
They were marching for mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters and friends. More than 250 people had come to Edinburgh in August 2021 to remember the people in their lives that substance use disorder had killed. The goal of the Turn the Town Purple walk had been to offer a sense of comfort to a community rocked by overdose.
Organizers are bringing the event back again this year, as Edinburgh and surrounding communities continue to struggle against substance use disorder.
“The disease of addiction has affected Edinburgh in a big way. I never would have thought that this event would get so big,” said Misty Hogan, an organizer of the event and director of admissions and business development at Cardinal Recovery.
The Turn the Town Purple Overdose Awareness Walk will again bring people together to remember those they’ve lost to drugs and alcohol. But in addition to memorializing those people, the event will provide resources and outreach as well.
“Last year’s walk was about closure, (whereas) this year’s walk is about giving hope and giving resources to the community and those who are struggling,” Hogan said. “We’re still going to remember those we lost because we don’t ever want to forget them. But we didn’t want to do the same thing exactly this year, and wanted to focus on bringing the community together.”
Turn the Town Purple was created last year to remember those who have died from overdoses, and to recognize those who are in recovery from substance use disorder themselves. Hogan, who recently completed four years in recovery, had lost someone close to her, Sheyenne McCall, to an overdose.
Not only was Hogan one of her friends, but she was sponsoring McCall in her own recovery.
“I started getting these calls from people in Edinburgh saying that we have to do something,” she said.
The goal was to raise awareness while helping family and friends grieve for those who have been lost to substance use disorder.
The walk was organized by Recover Out Loud, an active recovery community formed by Edinburgh native John Cunningham, that uses fitness, sports, social events and other activities as an integral part of the recovery process. They are open about the trials that led them to this point and share their own experiences in the community.
“It’s important for me to bring back something positive to my hometown to show people that it is possible to change and recover,” Cunningham said. “A lot of people from Edinburgh have seen me at my worst and remember me in active addiction. Now I can share my recovery with them in a positive way, to raise awareness and bring hope.”
Since forming initially in Greensburg, the group has expanded to include gatherings in places such as Franklin, Bloomington, Seymour, Nashville and Edinburgh. A clubhouse and fitness center is established in Columbus.
As opposed to having a strict process that they follow, the group instead believes in the importance of forging bonds, Hogan said.
“One of our mottos is that the opposite of addiction is connection,” Hogan said. “So we’re like a family. We go on camping trips, we go on weekend retreats, we have New Year’s Eve and Super Bowl parties. When you feel part of a family like that, you want to be included.”
With many of the organizers living in or having connections to Edinburgh, they were well aware of the scourge substance abuse was on the town and the county as a whole.
The past two years have seen an abundance of opioid overdose deaths throughout Johnson County. In 2019, the county reported 19 deaths from any opioid drug. That number jumped to 57 people in 2020, and there were 31 deaths in 2021.
Medical personnel are also reversing more overdoses with the drug naloxone. In 202o, the county reported 382 incidents that involved naloxone administration. EMS gave 470 doses in 2021.
Through the first seven months of 2022, EMTs are reporting 200 incidents involving naloxone.
Advocates have worked with Edinburgh town officials to address the issue. A Naloxbox — a mounted case that contains doses of life-saving naloxone and substance use disorder resources — was installed in mid-April. Recover Out Loud has started a weekly gathering at the Edinburgh Parks and Recreation building.
The success of last year’s Turn the Town Purple proved how many people share her desire to address the issue, Hogan said.
“The reaction from the community was overwhelming. We have been doing events for four years now, and Edinburgh was the most attended event to date,” Cunningham said. “We are projecting a bigger turnout this year and are excited about the partnerships and sponsorships from local businesses, the town of Edinburgh, recovery resources and community members who have donated their time, money or food to make this event a community-driven event.”
When planning this year’s event, the goal was to make it bigger and better, in part thanks to a grant from Drug Free Johnson County.
The focus on substance use disorder will span multiple days in late August. On Aug. 25, the Edinburgh Pixy Theatre will offer a free screening of “The Addict’s Wake,” a documentary about the ripple effects of heroin, meth, and opioid addiction in Brown County. The film won the Indiana Spotlight Award at the Heartland Film Festival and the Independent Spirit Award at the Sedona International Film Festival.
Recover Out Loud will be answering questions following the documentary.
Then the main event comes two days later at Irwin Park. Everything starts with a kickball game between Recover Out Loud and Edinburgh police and fire personnel.
Area substance abuse treatment centers, including Tara Treatment Center and Cardinal Recovery, will be available to distribute information and answer questions.
“A lot of people just don’t know. I get calls all the time — they know this person or that person who is struggling, but they don’t know where to go,” Hogan said.
Organizers also hope to reduce some of the misconceptions and stigma surrounding addiction and recovery.
“A big misconception is that people think they can go to detox or go through a 30-day program, and they’re cured. But that’s just not the way it works,” Hogan said.
During Turn the Town Purple, a banner will go up with the names of local residents who have died from an overdose. T-shirts will include the names of people who have died.
But the event also aims to celebrate those in recovery. Live music by Twisted Tiara, a local group of musicians ages 10 to 13, and from Jim Jam and the Scrim Scrams will be featured throughout the evening. Free food, a bounce house and family activities are planned. People who are in recovery will share their stories with the crowd.
Downtown Edinburgh will be decorated with purple flowers and ribbons — the color of overdose awareness. The crowd will again march through the town shouting recovery slogans.
“That’s my absolute favorite part. It’s really empowering,” Hogan said.
IF YOU GO
Turn the Town Purple
What: A community event to remember those who have died from overdose, as well as to provide resources and information about recovery from substance use disorder.
When: 6-10 p.m. Aug. 27
Where: Irwin Park, North Main Street, Edinburgh
Activities: A kickball kick-off game between members of Recover Out Loud and Edinburgh first responders, live entertainment by Twisted Tiara and Jim Jam and the Scrim Scrams, food, a bounce house, games, resources, testimonials and more. An overdose awareness walk will be held at 7 p.m. through the town, and a ceremonial lantern release is scheduled for 10 p.m.
To get involved or to help sponsor the event, contact Misty Hogan at 463-201-6522.
Aug. 25: The public is invited to the Pixy Theatre at 6:30 p.m. for a free screening of “The Addict’s Wake,” a documentary about the damage drugs have done in Brown County. A panel discussion will be held afterwards.
Aug. 31: Overdose Awareness Day, when people are encouraged to share memories of those lost on social media, wear purple and raise awareness.
Recover Out Loud: An open meeting is held in Edinburgh from 6-7 p.m. every Tuesday at the Edinburgh Parks and Recreation building, 722 S. Eisenhower Drive.