WARREN, R.I. (WPRI) — Traffic was halted on Main Street in Warren Wednesday as dozens of people took to the street to honor the lives lost to overdoses last year.

Warren was one of several communities in the area to mark International Overdose Awareness Day, which is considered the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdoses, remember without stigma those who have died and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind.

In Warren, the town’s prevention center and the East Bay Recovery Center teamed up for the second year in a row for a walk to St. Mary of the Bay Church for a candlelight vigil.

On the church’s lawn, 435 purple flags mark overdose deaths in Rhode Island in 2021.

The purple flags are surrounded by four yellow flags, representing the ripple effect of those losses.

“Everybody knows somebody who’s struggling with addiction,” said Tom Joyce, director of the East Bay Recovery Center. “Here in the East Bay, it’s something that is not really on the radar as you would see in the urban core, but there is issues here. What we’re seeing more now is those recreational users, or people who are supplementing their medications by buying something off the street, but we’re also seeing an increase in anxiety.”

For families like the Flanagans, these events are never easy. They lost their son Alex to an overdose earlier this year.

“[People] say, ‘how are you doing?’ I have a hard time saying ‘I’m fine,’ because it’s just not genuine. I’m coping,” Tom Flanagan said.

Flanagan agrees that anxiety is a major reason why people turn to substance abuse, adding that his son struggled with anxiety.

“Anxiety is a very, very big thing that’s behind a lot of behavioral health that drives behaviors that are self-destructive,” he said.

He believes we can work to save lives through conversation, like asking people how they’re truly doing.

“If they asked you in a way that made you think they really wanted to know how you’re doing, I think you’d have a different conversation,” Flanagan said. “I think we have to bring that other conversation forward somehow. I don’t know how, but I want people who want to find a way to bring that conversation forward, come to work together, because I think we can do it here.”

“It’s something more than mourning the loss, something about reaching out and touching others,” he added.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, click here for resources in Rhode Island and here for resources in Massachusetts.