WORCESTER, Mass. - Governor Charlie Baker issued a proclamation declaring August 31 Overdose Awareness Day in Massachusetts.

More than 2,100 purple flags are outside of UMass Memorial Medical Center and UMass Medical School. Each flag represents a person who died from an opioid overdose in the state in 2020.

Members of the UMass community spoke about their efforts to end stigma and help people impacted by addiction.

Doctors say the COVID-19 pandemic escalated the opioid epidemic because people faced isolation. 

“In our nation, overdoses have never been as high as they were this past year,” Dr. Erik Garcia said.. I think this speaks to the fact that COVID led to isolation in many people. Isolation led to depression, desperation, but also isolated people from treatment and the support that they had previously towards their recovery from addictive illness.”

Dr. Garcia says he spends much of his time clinically doing homeless outreach and advocacy. The emergency room uses an outreach van providing services for people who suffer from addictive illnesses.