Black Balloon Day remembers lives lost to addiction

March 6 is International Black Ball Day, a day to remember the lives lost to drugs and alcohol over the past year.

Dwayne Duke has been sober for nearly a decade. Still, that doesn’t stop her from thinking about friends who didn’t survive.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Duke said.

Sunday’s event was held at the Gateway Foundation, a nonprofit program that treats about 9,000 people in Chicago alone each year.

The pandemic, however, has made the situation worse.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reports that nearly 3,600 Illinois died of drug overdoses in 2020, an increase of about 33% from the previous year.

Black Balloon Day aims to deflate the stigma of addiction and why many don’t seek help.

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“We want people to know that everything is fine. It’s not your fault,” said Gateway Foundation Executive Director Dr. Ciuinal Lewis.

While the black balloons represent lost lives, the purple is for those recovering, including Duke.

“For me, it’s still amazing,” he said. “I’ve spent most of my adult life drinking and doing drugs. So I have to pinch myself and say, ‘Dwayne, you’re sober.'”