When people think of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science they typically think about dinosaurs and fossils — not drug-overdose deaths. The “Lost Talent Memorial” is a break away from the museum’s traditional exhibits. 

On Thursday Aug. 29, about 100 community members, elected officials, law enforcement officers and museum staff convened at the Natural History Museum in honor of International Overdose Awareness Day. The museum hosted the memorial to recognize the people who are grieving the loss of loved ones and to honor those who have died because of a drug overdose.

Pictures of young people who have overdosed were projected on the Lockheed Martin DynaTheater’s five-story screen as the backdrop for the ceremony. 

“The hard part, for all of us, has been hearing the stories of these lovely young people who were so talented and so capable,” said museum director Margie Marino. 

Family members and dignitaries stood at the podium in front of the projected photos and tearfully shared their stories. Multiple parents said their deceased children first started using as teenagers and then, after multiple rehabilitation attempts, overdosed in their twenties or early thirties. 

In addition to the ceremony, a dedication stone was placed at the Museum’s “Walk through New Mexico” exhibit to honor all victims of substance addiction. The museum director said she wanted to do something that was “more long-lasting” than just hosting a traveling exhibit. 

“In 2014, Bernalillo County voters approved a mental health tax to leverage services for families struggling with substance use and mental health disorders,” said Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley. 

The museum director confirmed that $2,500 of the Bernalillo County mental health tax funding in addition to some grant funding from U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was spent on hosting Thursday’s memorial and having the dedication stone engraved. 

Some have questioned if the museum is the right place for this type of event and the DEA’s role in the “War on Drugs.” 

“About two to three years ago when all this started, we were approached by the DEA museum to take the (Drugs: Costs and Consequences) exhibit. There was a lot of questions about whether this was an appropriate thing for a Natural History Museum but I don’t know of anything more appropriate than to care about the health and wellbeing of the resident’s of New Mexico,” Marino said.

SAMHSA estimates that one in five college students use illicit substances each month and that the rates of chronic non-medical use of opioids are highest among people between the ages of 18-25. 

Emily Kaltenbach, the Drug Policy Alliance New Mexico State Director, said in addition to helping those that have lost loved ones grieve, several things can be done to decrease overdose deaths among college students: 

1) Educate students so that they know that in New Mexico they can call 911 for overdose emergencies without fear of incriminating themselves or their friends.

2) Give students the resources they need to test their drugs and be able to provide Naloxone to someone who may have overdosed.

3) Provide skills training and information about how to make partying safer including holding club owners and event producers responsible and pushing to repeal laws that criminalize party goers. 

Additionally, Naloxone , the counteractive emergency medication for opioid overdose or suspected overdose can be purchased by members of the general public without a prescription from a doctor. 

Lissa Knudsen is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo and can be contacted on twitter @lissaknudsen or through news@dailylobo.com