Residents, behavioral health director on International Overdose Awareness Day

International Overdose Awareness Day is held annually on August 31. To recognize this day, people display purple lights and ribbons outside their homes, including Valencia resident Dena Gertsch, who's front porch is pictured. Photo by Dena Gertsch.

International Overdose Awareness Day is held annually Aug. 31, and some Santa Clarita Valley residents are displaying purple lights and ribbons outside their homes to show support and remember those who have passed away as a result of an overdose.

“The lights and ribbons are in remembrance of those that have been lost,” said Valencia resident Dena Gertsch, who has both ribbons and purple lights on her porch. “They also show solidarity and bring attention to the issue to help stop future overdoses.”

Gertsch lost her 25-year-old son, Alex, in July to an overdose. The young man had an ongoing struggle, falling in and out of recovery, the mother said. He had purchased benzodiazepine medications overseas via the internet in the past when he did not have easy access to substances locally, according to his mother. During his last days, he purchased and consumed “white china,” a class-A synthetic drug that is stronger than street heroin, from a vendor on Craigslist.

He died from an overdose of fentanyl on July 4.

“He was bright, talented and a fun person,” Gertsch said.

Today, Alex’s parents want to help raise awareness on “the dangers of the dark web” in relation to substance abuse and help educate others on how to prevent and treat those affected by overdose. Gertsch said she would like to see more community support and work, with hopes of receiving help to start awareness events around the SCV.

Awareness on this topic is more important than ever, said Cary Quashen, Henry Mayo executive director of Behavioral Health and director of Action Family Counseling.

“It’s more important today than ever because we are in the midst of an epidemic,” he said. “There are 72,000 (people) that die every year of an overdose, that’s more than in car crashes. The numbers are nine out of 10 deaths this year in the Santa Clarita Valley. The numbers are off the charts.”

He said people can do more to educate others and help save lives. He shared that anyone seeking help or looking for ways to learn more can contact Action Drug Rehab by calling 661-297-8691. Local churches, Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups are other resources people can turn to as well.

The best a person suffering from addiction can do, however, he added, is to “reach out to someone and don’t try to do this alone.”

To learn more about International Overdose Awareness Day, visit

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