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20,000 flags planted on Boston Common to remember lives lost to drug overdoses

Holly Francis, a volunteer with Boston Medical Center, helped to plant some of the 20,000 purple flags in the Common that commemorate Overdose Awareness Day and kick off Recovery Month. The purple flags represented the lives lost to overdose in Massachusetts over the past 10 years.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

A bright purple sea of 20,000 flags covered a swath of Boston Common on Monday, a tribute to the lives lost to drug overdoses in Massachusetts over the past decade.

Governor Charlie Baker, staff at Boston Medical Center, and Department of Public Health personnel were among those who helped to plant the flags to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day on Wednesday.

The memorial was constructed at the Common’s Liberty Mall in front of the State House to honor and remember those who have died from drug overdoses, show support for their loved ones, and remove the stigma and raise awareness about drug addiction, Governor Baker’s office wrote in a statement.


Those participating in the flag-planting ceremony observed a moment of silence to acknowledge the scope of the loss, Baker’s office said. An information booth was set up nearby to offer addiction resources and services.

Next to the memorial stood a sign with the phrase, “One flag, one life.” Passersby are able to scan a QR code with their phones to access links for harm reduction resources and a calendar of awareness events across the Commonwealth.

Staff of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center stood in solidarity with families and friends of those who died and those who continue to grapple with drug abuse, hospital officials said in a press release.

Dr. Miriam Komaromy, the center’s medical director, stressed the importance of educating the public and reducing the stigma around addiction struggles.

Colleen LaBelle, of Boston Medical Center, bent down to adjust one of the 20,000 purple flags in the Common.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“It is extremely important to spread awareness that there are organizations and resources available to those who need them, especially since feelings of hopelessness and helplessness are common,” Komaromy said.

Beyond the flag display, multiple state bridges and buildings will be lit purple, along with the transport bridge at Boston Medical Center, for the rest of the week to mark the occasion.


After Overdose Awareness Day, “Recovery Month” will be observed in September with a goal of promoting hope and recovery for those struggling, the release said.

Last month, the Baker administration designated $597.2 million for addiction support services, including education and prescription monitoring.

Holly Francis, a volunteer with Boston Medical Center, was framed through a purple ribbon as she helped to plant some of the 20,000 purple flags. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
Cierra Campbell (left) of Dorchester and Kerri Loftus, of Medford who both work for the Gavin Foundation paused to look at a photo they had shot of the 20,000 purple flags in the Common.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Bailey Allen can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @baileyaallen.