Binghamton’s annual Trail of Truth Memorial March has gone national.

Truth Pharm, a Binghamton-based organization dedicated to raising awareness on substance misuse, has hosted the march since 2016. During the memorial, families and friends of those that have died from drug misuse march around Binghamton carrying the tombstones of their loved ones, eventually laying them by a city wall, according to Truth Pharm’s website. Members then outline their own body with chalk, in solidarity with the souls of their passed loved ones.

This year, Truth Pharm is also hosting the memorial nationally for the first time. People all over the country are invited to join the march in Washington D.C. on Sept. 24.

Jessica Saeman, Truth Pharm’s project coordinator, described how the original motivation for the memorial came from the drug crisis in Broome County.

“We knew that our loved ones’ passing was being ignored,” Saeman wrote in an email. “The county insisted that we did not have any overdose deaths to report, while we knew that our children and siblings were dying. The first year we made stones with their names, beautiful words about them and a photo. They were beautiful people who were loved and missed, and that should not be forgotten.”

According to the Broome County website, there have been 21 suspected fatal overdoses and 147 non-fatal overdoses in the first quarter of 2022. This is an increase in overdoses from last year, which had a total of 54 suspected fatal overdoses and 516 reported non-fatal overdoses.

However, overdose is not the only concern related to substance use deaths, Saeman explained. Truth Pharm became more aware of deaths from endocarditis, hepatitis C and infections in substance users, Saeman wrote, highlighting the deeper-rooted issue Broome County is facing.

Truth Pharm hoped to give the families of those that have died from drug use peace and acknowledgment when first starting the memorial in Binghamton, which was a success, according to Saeman.

“Our community has always been supportive of our local Trail of Truth,” Saeman wrote. “Families find comfort in having their family member acknowledged.”

The success inspired Truth Pharm to extend their event nationally, offering the memorial service to all across the country that have lost a loved one to drug use. Saeman described how the preparation for the event in Washington, D.C. is what set it apart from its local counterpart.

“The difference between local and national is the planning,” Saeman wrote. “We have over 80 partners working together across the spectrum of substance use. People in prevention, treatment, abstinence, recovery and harm reduction are all using their collective voices for the things we can agree on.”

Saeman believes that hosting the event on a national level is necessary in order to catch the attention of the government.

“People from all over the country mourn their loved ones out loud with a strength that is only acquired after losing someone you love,” Saeman wrote. “The goal of the event is to ask the government to actually enforce some of the things already in place. Laws were passed to try to alleviate some of the inaccessibility of treatment, and they are just not enforced.”

Kenny Pasato, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience at Binghamton University, said his experience as a volunteer EMT in his hometown helps him relate to the family members participating in the memorial, and hoped the march would be able to elicit change.

“As a volunteer first responder, seeing the effects of an opioid overdose firsthand on the parents was terrifying,” Pasato said. “Hopefully no other parents have to experience that pain and this great event changes something.”

Clothiel Monks, a senior majoring in human development who works at the Addiction Center of Broome County, believes that the event is crucial, especially for Binghamton. Monks shared her hope that making the event national will bring change to the city.

“I hope that national attention can redirect local attention to some of the issues that need to be addressed in the community,” Monks said. “The housing crisis in Binghamton must be addressed if we are to continue to fight the addiction crisis here. Our public outreach programs work tirelessly and are extremely overwhelmed.”

Saeman said she believes that change can be accomplished, if enough people want it.

“We can do that if we all stand united to make the changes we agree on,” Saeman wrote. “We have power in numbers, power in people who don’t always feel connected or valued. People don’t know that until they can see what it looks like when they see other people and families like theirs. They are not alone, their loved one was important, we know the [hole] that exists in their family. We do not have to be alone.”