Victoria’s Story – A personal tragedy shared sets tone for Picatinny’s Overdose Awareness Day observance

By Eric KowalSeptember 5, 2023

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Sgt. Jorge L. Rivera, Religious Funds Technician, releases a butterfly as Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, looks on.
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - Sgt. Jorge L. Rivera, Religious Funds Technician, releases a butterfly as Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, looks on. (Photo Credit: Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. - A symbolic butterfly release, signifying hope, transformation, and the strength that comes from unity and community, culminated Picatinny Arsenal’s observance on Aug. 31 of International Overdose Awareness Day.

The butterflies, provided by the U.S. Army garrison Picatinny Arsenal Environmental Affairs Division, were released outside near the installation’s golf course after a presentation inside the Lindner Conference Center.

In many ancient cultures, butterflies are considered a powerful symbol of transformation and spiritual growth, and a release can serve as a way to remember and honor those we have lost to overdose and Substance Use Disorder (SUD), a complex disease that affects the brain and behavior.

The annual event, which was coordinated through Picatinny Arsenal’s Employee Assistance Program, is meant to offer support to people who have lost family and friends to overdoses. The day also supports those who are currently dealing with substance abuse and highlights the importance of providing resources to those struggling with loss or addiction.

The observance emphasizes the U.S. Army's commitment to tackling the challenges of substance use disorder and mental health and underscores the key roles that the Army Substance Abuse Office and the Army Employee Assistance Office play in this endeavor.

“We want to foster a community that is aware, and is resilient,” said Lt. Col. Alexander D. Burgos, Picatinny Arsenal garrison commander, to the audience gathered in the conference center. “We are committed to the awareness and having a shared understanding of what this means and acknowledging those who have lost loved ones to drugs and high-risk behavior.”

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid-involved overdose deaths rose from 21,089 in 2010 to 47,600 in 2017 and remained steady through 2019. This was followed by a significant increase in 2020 with 68,630 reported deaths and again in 2021 with 80,411 reported overdose deaths.

“This moment will remind us that even in the face of challenges, we can come together to create positive change and support one another,” said Amy Gopel, Picatinny Arsenal’s Army Substance Abuse Program Manager and Employee Assistance Program Coordinator.

Kathy Ferguson, while fighting back tears and pushing herself to talk through heavy-hearted memories, became a beacon of hope and light for the Picatinny Arsenal community as she relived the tragic passing of her daughter Victoria Lynn Bachmann.

Victoria lost her battle with addiction on December 1, 2018, at the age of 24.

Ferguson, a plans specialist in the garrison’s Plans, Analysis, and Integration Office, stated that her convictions grow stronger each time she tells Victoria’s story. But, she added, the pain from her loss does not subside.

Kathy Ferguson talks about her daughter’s tragic passing after she was poisoned by Fentanyl.
Kathy Ferguson talks about her daughter’s tragic passing after she was poisoned by Fentanyl. (Photo Credit: Todd Mozes) VIEW ORIGINAL

“Initial reports categorized Victoria’s death as an overdose, but the fact was that she was poisoned by Fentanyl, enough to kill and elephant,” Ferguson said. “At 5’2” tall, and 120-pounds, she never stood a chance.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention, Fentanyl remains the single deadliest drug threat our nation has encountered, resulting in historic numbers of overdose.

The risks of fentanyl contamination of illegal drugs are a growing concern, as this can lead to an increase in overdose deaths among people who may or may not be aware that their drugs include this deadly additive, and among people who have not used opioids before, and thus are at greater risk for overdose.

“Fentanyl is literally wiping out a generation and we need to act now because these are no longer normal times,” Ferguson continued. “You can teach your kids morals, values, kindness, integrity, and more, but none of those things can fight and win against Fentanyl.”

To paint a picture of how dangerous Fentanyl is, compare it to heroin. Fentanyl is approximately 50 times as potent as heroin. According to the CDC, the number of heroin-involved overdose deaths in 2021 was three times the number in 2010.

“For most, August 31 signifies that summer will soon be ending and that kids will soon be returning to school. But to me it is now one of the days that I get to speak out and be the voice for my daughter, Ferguson said.

“It is a day of both dread and exhilaration. Dread, because the entire fateful day of December 1 and the events that led up to it are replayed in my mind and it is emotionally draining. Exhilaration because I get to openly speak her name out loud and wear my heart on my sleeve without fear or regard of condemnation. Standing here before you today and putting myself in this vulnerable position and speaking about a subject I would have never imagined fails in comparison to the number of times Victoria felt vulnerability. So here I stand not for your sympathy, but for your understanding, as I share Victoria’s story, and my heartache in the hopes that it can help someone else.”

After receiving a standing ovation and then exiting the stage, Ferguson was followed by speaker Caroline Bailey, a former drug user who experienced overdose, but was revived and lived to tell her story.

Bailey spoke to the audience about her experiences of being homeless on the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania while addicted to heroin. Bailey now works with Morris County Prevention is Key, a community-focused non-profit organization providing science-based prevention education programs, professional development training, advocacy, information, and referral services.

“We are heartbreaking,” Bailey said of being a drug user as how it impacts families.

“My family almost lost me, I lost myself,” she said. “My experience with drugs began when I was 10 years old until when I overdosed when I was 23,” she said.

Since 2018, tens of thousands of New Jerseyans have experienced an overdose and more than 15,000 died of a suspected drug-related death.

A day before Bailey’s presentation at Picatinny, she celebrated her 10th year of sobriety.

“Coming into recovery is the easy part. Staying in recovery is the hard part,” she said.

“On August 29, 2013, I would have run through a brick wall to get to the next drug or drink. I would have robbed my family. I would have robbed your family to get to the next drink or drug. For whatever reason, on August 30th I woke up and it was completely gone. I was no longer driven by the obsession to drink or use. Ever since that day I have been doing the best I can to honor that experience.”

Following her talk, Bailey offered training on how to administer Naloxone (brand name Narcan) to suspected overdose victims. Narcan can immediately reverse an opioid overdose, dramatically increasing the chance for survival while ultimately improving the odds for future recovery.

Employees who believe they may have an addiction problem should contact Amy Gopel, the installation’s Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program Manager and Employee Assistance Program Coordinator, at 973-724-4357 or for a referral. All screenings are confidential.