A heroin overdose took Christine Hoff's niece's life at the age of 22.

Instead of crying every day and feeling like she may "lose her mind," the Mount Holly resident decided to focus less on her heartbreak and more on offering an outlet for others dealing with a similar tragedy.

Shelby Katilus
Shelby Katilus died of a heroin overdose in 2016 at age 22. (Christine Hoff)

"You don't know what to do; you feel like you hit a brick wall," Hoff said.

Hoff is in charge of an event scheduled in her home town Thursday evening as part of International Overdose Awareness Day. Hundreds of remembrance and assistance events are planned throughout the country, including a handful in the Garden State.

Hoff's event at Iron Works Park will feature resource tables, heroin antidote Narcan kits/prescriptions, a candlelight vigil with a slideshow, and public speakers who are well-versed on the state's widespread drug abuse problem.

Hoff was inspired by a similar event in a different county last year.

"It was nice to be around other people that were going through the same exact thing," she said. "There's people dying every day, and then there's people left behind to deal with it."

Attendees are asked to bring a pair or new or slightly-used shoes to be donated to homeless or rehabilitation facilities in the area.

New Jersey events — Aug. 31, 2017

  • Bridgewater — Somerville-Bridgewater ELKS Lodge, 375 Union Avenue, 7 to 9 p.m.
  • Dunellen — Washington Park Gazebo, 7:30 p.m.
  • Forked River — Lacey United Methodist Church, 203 Lacey Road, 6 to 9 p.m.
  • Keansburg — Main Street and Beachway (2 Beachway), 6:45 to dusk
  • Millville — Cumberland County Fairgrounds, 3001 Carmel Road, 6 p.m.
  • Mount Holly — Iron Works Park, Wollner Driver, 6 to 10 p.m.
  • Newton — The Green at Newton Town Square, 4 High St., 7 p.m.
  • Old Bridge — Municipal building, One Old Bridge Plaza, 5 to 8 p.m.
  • Sewell — James Atkinson Park, 138 Bethel Mill Road, 5:30 p.m.
  • South Amboy — South Amboy Middle High School, 200 Governor Harold G Hoffman Plaza, 5 to 8 p.m.
  • Ventnor — Behind the Ventnor Community Library, 6 to 8 p.m.

Some New Jersey events were held earlier in August or in July.

Keansburg resident Jeffrey Deblasio, who is running the event in his home town, said a circle of shoes with one in the middle will symbolize addiction as "one foot in the grave and one foot out." He's lost loved ones and friends to drugs.

"I do what I can to stop the epidemic," Deblasio said.

The New Jersey Medical Examiner's Office cited 1,587 drug overdose deaths in 2015, the most recent year for which official data is available. Heroin was identified in 918 cases.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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