Shoes were laid out at the courthouse to honor victims of fatal overdoses in 2020 during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021 at the St. Joseph County Courthouse. Staff photo by Michael Caterina
Shoes were laid out at the courthouse to honor victims of fatal overdoses in 2020 during a candlelight vigil Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021 at the St. Joseph County Courthouse. Staff photo by Michael Caterina
SOUTH BEND — Arrayed on the steps of the St. Joseph County Courthouse, each of the 83 empty pairs of shoes — sneakers and Oxfords and heels and flip-flops — represented a son, daughter, sibling or spouse.

They also symbolized the county’s 83 fatal drug overdoses in 2020, the most in recent history and more than double the number of accidental drug deaths the previous year.

The stark image was part of a memorial event earlier this week, as family members who have lost loved ones to opioids gathered to remember those who have died and draw attention to a crisis that has surged during the COVID-19 pandemic after a few years of improvement.

Fueling the opioid epidemic: 65 million painkillers flooded St. Joe County

St. Joseph County’s 83 overdose deaths last year was up from 35 in 2019, when the area saw a big reduction in drug fatalities. Before last year, the county’s previous high was 71 in 2017.

This year, the county could be on pace to see even more overdose deaths. There had been 40 confirmed fatal overdoses between January and June this year, approaching the same number the county had between January and August 2020.

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