SAN DIEGO — County health leaders along with local law enforcement held a news conference Wednesday to commemorate International Overdose Awareness Day.

Leaders joined together to remember the lives lost in the county, and the resources being used to mitigate the opioid problem.

“I wish my son had a second chance,” said Laura Brinker, whose son died of an accidental overdose.

1,303 flags were placed on the County Administration Center lawn, with each to represent an overdose death in 2021 in San Diego County.

Brinker lost her son that year after she said he took one pill laced with fentanyl.

“Please, parents that are listening, please take the time to educate yourself about fentanyl. Educate your children and encourage open communication,” Brinker said.

“I was damaging myself physically, I was damaging relationships and I was hurting my goals and my aspirations,” said 20-year-old Francisco Platt.

Platt is an opioid survivor who said he has been clean for more than two years. Platt said he asked his mother for help with his illicit drug use.

“I went from struggling at the end of high school, just graduating, surrounded by the wrong crowd, to the man I am today. I now work 40 hours a week,” Platt said.

“This is a medical problem and treatment works,” said Dr. Carla Marienfield, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego.

During the press conference Wednesday, county health leaders vowed their commitment to tackle the growing fentanyl and opioid epidemic in the county with treatment, prevention work and more.

According to the county, there were a reported 458 fentanyl-related overdose deaths in 2020, a 209% increase compared to 2019, when the County Medical Examiner’s Office recorded 148 accidental/unintentional overdose deaths.

Officials also drove home the point of ending the stigma around drug abuse and instead supporting people in recovery.

“We have to shift our thinking, because if we can embrace the reality, the commonness of the illness, we will embrace the treatment for it,” said Dr. Luke Bergmann, Director of Behavioral Health Services at the San Diego County Health and Human Service Agency.