CandlesEach candle Aug. 31 memorialized a certain beloved someone lost to drugs. / Brynn O'Connor photos

Tommy Caccavaro stood before some 20 other people, each holding a flickering candle, outside Calvary Church on the last night of August.

Ordinary residents, town staffers and people directly affected by drug abuse were there to mark International Overdose Awareness Day.

They came to remember those who did not make it out of addiction in time – and to hear from a local person who after many years finally did.

“My life was miserable. I did a lot of harm to the community. Thank God for the police station, because the police station throughout all those years tried saving my life,” said Caccavaro, the town of Arlington’s recovery coach.

For the past several years, town officials, including all members of local law enforcement, have looked upon substance abuse as a health issue, not a crime problem.

The vigil was put together by the Department of Health and Human Services as the latest event in the community's  addiction recovery efforts.

“There’s been so much amazing work going on in Arlington for a really long time,” said Anna Martin, prevention services manager with the department since May. “To be able to kind of bring everyone together in the context of this new role that I have, it’s been really exciting.”

Addiction: a major local issue

The opioid crisis in Arlington is real, ongoing and, by at least some indicators, worsening.Rescue supplies were available for free.

In 2022, the state reported a 2.5-percent increase in opioid-related deaths; several communities were impacted by this rise in fatalities, including Arlington. According to records retrieved from Captain Richard Flynn and Data Analyst Danielle Smith of the Arlington Police Department, six opioid-related deaths were reported to authorities last year -- three times the two fatal overdoses reported in 2021.

The town is committed to combating these tragic losses and raising awareness about prevention methods. For example, at the Aug. 31 vigil, Narcan was available for the taking, including instructions on how to use the life-saving spray.

‘Called at 2 in the morning’

There were pamphlets and posters publicizing the organization Support After a Death by Overdose (SADOD). Moreover, Caccavaro handed out cards with his direct line handwritten on the back of each one.When Caccavaro says that people who need help can call him any time, he means it.

“I work for the community. I work 24/7 on call. [If] I get called at 2 in the morning, I'm out,” he said to the crowd.

Caccavaro spoke further about his long but ultimately successful road to recovery; as of Halloween he looks forward to celebrating nine years of sobriety. As he talked,people sat in lawn chairs in a wide circle, hearing how through hard work, determination, more than 41 halfway houses, more than 30 detoxes and help from the Arlington Police Department, he finally was able to overcome his addiction.

Other stories, though, sadly, don’t have a happy ending, Following Caccavaro, local resident Elizabeth Wall walked to the center of the lawn to speak in memory of her two sons who succumbed to drug overdoses.

“When you lose your own, it’s a different story,” she said to the crowd. “We shouldn’t judge. We should all help one another.

‘I think about him every day’

Attendees listened respectfullyMartin invited those present to to walk to the center of the lawn to light a candle in honor of anyone they might have known who had lost their lives to addiction.

Martin herself lit one, in memory of a coworker from a previous position.

“I think about him every day. His death has impacted me in a number of ways,” she told the crowd.

One by one, people walked up to write a name on an illuminated candle.

A member of the church played the guitar for the group as the night grew darker and more lights were lit.

‘We’re here because this matters’

After a few moments, Calvary’s pastor, The Rev. Cynthia Good, asked everyone to gather in a circle for a closing commemoration.

“We’re here because this matters,” she said.

Toward the end, Good thanked everyone for coming and sharing their stories. She and Caccavaro encouraged community members to extend their hands to help the suffering.

“Don’t leave the person in the puddle. Pick them up,” said Caccavaro.

This ceremony was toward the beginning of town-led outreach and education. A town forum is scheduled to take place later this month, at 6 p.m., Sept. 28, at Town Hall. At tht time, all residents are invited to join Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan and members of the town health department to learn more about what is being done in Arlington to combat opioid use.

Money coming soon; rescue supplies available now

The forum is to include an overview of the town’s funding plans for the $1.2 million in settlements from opioid producers and distributors that it expects to receive over the next 15 years to help mitigate the impact that the opioid crisis has had on the town.

Other Prevention Services initiatives include strengthening youth prevention efforts with the schools, collaborating with the police for information sharing and expanding the resources that the Health Department can offer. 

Anyone seeking Narcan/naloxone, fentanyl test strips or xylazine/tranq test strips for any reason may walk into the Health Department, 27 Maple St., Floor 2, during business hours and receive them for free. They may also call 781-316-3193, or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to arrange a time for pickup.

Oct. 30, 2022: Police step up efforts to curb opioid abuse; seminar held


This account including photographs by Brynn O'Connor, YourArlington's assistant to the editor, was published Sunday, Sept. 10,  2023.