Friday, March 11, 2022

Black Balloon Day honors those who lost to substance overdoses

Lakes Region Recovery Center in Bridgton took part in the 
National Black Balloon Day on Sunday, March 6, an annual
event dedicated to recognizing those who have lost their lives
to substance overdose. These are some of the balloons hanging
from the ceiling at LRRC last week.
By Lorraine Glowczak

“Last week, eight people died from an overdose in Maine – and unfortunately, that was considered a ‘good’ week,” the State Director of Opioid Response, Gordon Smith said in a recent virtual meeting with other health professionals across the state who work to curtail the opioid crisis. In 2021, 636 individuals lost their lives to accidental overdoses, increasing from 504 deaths in 2020.

Lakes Region Recovery Center (LRRC), at 25 Hospital Drive in Bridgton, is among the over 40 professional entities participating in this state-wide meeting hosted every three months by Jonathan Sarhbeck, Cumberland County District Attorney.  

LRRC, along with other recovery centers and individuals, took part in the National Black Balloon Day on Sunday March 6, an annual event dedicated to recognizing and celebrating those who have lost their lives to substance overdoses. By participating in the event, LRRC not only honors lives lost but helps raise awareness about the stark realities of substance misuse in Maine, putting human names and faces behind the statistics of those who have died.


“Here at the recovery center, we focus on peer-to-peer support, recognizing there are many pathways to healing for people with substance use disorder and mental health challenges,” LRRC Communication Specialist Candy Greenberg said. “This year, we wanted to acknowledge those individuals who lost their lives due to overdose by taking part in the National Black Balloon Day.”  

To do so, Greenberg set out to contact the families of the 636 individuals asking if they would like to send pictures in the memory of their son, daughter, mother, father, etc. Greenberg collected 25 photographs from around the state and made a black balloon banner out of construction paper, and it currently suspends from the ceiling in the LRRC’s hallway. For the individuals without photographs - their memories were honored with painted teardrops.

“This will be a moving memorial of sorts,” Greenberg said. “The balloons will hang here until the end of March, and then we will give them to Crooked River Counseling for it to be displayed there. After that, the balloon banner will hang along the Naples causeway – all in remembrance of lives lost to a terrible disease.”


On Friday, March 4, U.S. Senator Susan Collins’ staff member, Mark J. Winter, visited LRRC. Greenberg and LRRC Executive Director Tracey Martin gave him a tour of the 950 square foot facility, talking about the many programs they offer. 


“We are a little center, but we do big work,” Martin told Winter, explaining they are hoping to expand into a larger space to serve the community better. “We have a telephone recovery support center and hold many groups and meetings. Our services are free of charge to members, and membership is free. With the rise in mental health needs, we have added programs to support challenges such as PTSD, grief support, and other similar issues.”

Winter said that Senator Collins is very concerned about the current opioid crisis and the growing substance overdoses. He encouraged Martin and Greenberg to consider congressionally directed spending as the LRRC would meet the eligibility requirements, and the monies could help expand their facility. Winter stated that there is a stigma surrounding substance use disorder and the work LRRC does in recovery support is very much needed.


Substance use disorder (SUD) is a mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior. It affects many people, and the illness does not discriminate as to who survives and who does not. SUD and mental health are common, recurrent, and often serious, but they are treatable, and many people do recover. 


Kathy Black, who has lived in Windham for 10 years but recently moved to Gorham has been in recovery since 2008. She expresses her gratitude to LRRC.


“Being in recovery is a very difficult road because you always have the urge to go back to your drug of choice – the need for it never goes away,” Black said. “Heroin was my drug and I have had a few relapses. If it wasn’t for LRRC, I may not be in recovery today. 


Black was one of the first volunteers at LRRC when it opened in 2017 and has been actively urging legislators for more recovery centers. She said the LRRC is a place where you can always be yourself.


“Everyone there knows what you are going through, and you don’t feel alone,” Black said. “You never feel judged, and you are always supported.”


Black volunteers at LRRC in the call center to support others in recovery. 


“Having someone check in on you every day to offer support – especially when times are difficult is monumental in remaining sober,” Black said, whose left side is now paralyzed due to a recent operation to remove a cyst on her spine. “I know this for a fact. These phone calls have saved my life many times – especially after my operation. Talking is food for the soul.”


Greenberg said that the more we talk about substance use disorder, the more we all can help remove the stigma around seeking out help and maybe save someone’s life.


“National Black Balloon Day is one of the many ways to bring about this awareness,” Greenberg said.


For more information about Lakes Region Recovery Center or to inquire about services, peruse their website at, or call at 207-803-8707. <

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