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City recognizes drug crisis, observes Black Balloon Day

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published March 8, 2019

Linda Taylor knows what it’s like to lose a loved one to a drug overdose. 

Taylor lost her 17-year-old daughter, Marina, to an accidental drug overdose around 21 months ago, just two days after her senior prom and three days before her graduation ceremony. 

“She wound up back at the boyfriend’s house, fell asleep and never woke up,” she said. “The autopsy indicated that she had a cocktail of narcotics in her system, including marijuana, LSD, ecstasy, Xanax and fentanyl. ... Her heart just stopped beating and her respiratory system shut down,” Taylor said during the March 5 Sterling Heights City Council meeting.

City officials committed themselves to the cause of fighting and preventing drug abuse in conjunction with Black Balloon Day, a new day set apart to remember families who have lost loved ones to drugs. 

The council passed a resolution officially observing March 6 as Black Balloon Day. In reading part of the resolution, Mayor Michael Taylor — no relation to Linda Taylor — said the day encourages discussion about addiction, and the city hopes to “foster constructive discussion to combat this disease.” 

The day was started after the 2015 overdose death of Greg Tremblay, of Massachusetts. It is called Black Balloon Day because the family reportedly hung black balloons to commemorate the anniversary of Tremblay’s death.

Sterling Heights’ observance of Black Balloon Day was supported by the city, the Police Department, CARE of Southeast Michigan and the Sterling Heights Drug Free Coalition. 

At the council meeting, Sterling Heights Police Lt. Mario Bastianelli said the day has been a national and international event in the wake of the American opioid crisis. He said someone dies from an overdose every 190 minutes, and 60 percent of all drug-related deaths involve opiates.

Linda Taylor, who grew up in Sterling Heights and moved to Harrison Township, said her daughter did not have a long-term addiction and did not fit the stereotype of a drug addict. Marina was “an incredibly good student” and “girl next door,” who was planning to be a photographer and to attend the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Taylor said. 

“For a few short months, she went through a phase where she wanted to hang out and party,” Taylor said. 

“Two days before she died, we got a text message from her. … She said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to fight. It’s my senior year. I’m just trying to party and have a good time before I go off to college.’”

While Taylor said she has to live with the loss of her daughter, she hopes her advocacy of drug abuse prevention can help save others’ lives. She said her 24-year-old son recently went to a long-term recovery program.

Sterling Heights officials took additional steps last year to combat the epidemic, Bastianelli said. Community leaders and City Council members, including Liz Sierawski and Deanna Koski, established the Sterling Heights Drug Free Coalition in May 2018 to prevent future tragedies from occurring. They invited the public to join the team the second Thursday of every month 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the Sterling Heights Police Department.  

Councilwoman Barbara Ziarko called the addiction crisis an epidemic that’s seen in every demographic, rich or poor. Sierawski said addiction “has no borders; it has no filter.” 

“Everyone is at risk,” Sierawski said. “My heart goes out to all of you as a nurse and as a mom.”

Michael Taylor called Black Balloon Day a “somber ceremony” and thanked Linda Taylor for her courage and bravery in speaking about her situation.

“The loss of life here is tragic, and … as you can see, for every one person who dies, there are dozens and dozens more who are impacted and changed forever,” the mayor said. 

Find out more about Sterling Heights by visiting www.sterling-heights.net. Find out about the Sterling Heights Drug Free Coalition on its Facebook page.