CAPITAL REGION, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Numerous events took place across the Capital Region in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day. Advocates hope to raise awareness and push for meaningful change.

Lawmakers and advocates gathered outside the Capitol Tuesday morning, calling on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign three bills aimed at preventing overdoses.

“Over 90,000 people died last year because of substance abuse disorder,” said Assemblymember John McDonald. “It’s a health care issue. We need to take a more comprehensive approach, and not look at individuals as criminals, or addicts, but look at them as patients.”

A record 93,000 Americans died last year from drug overdoses, and the problem was exacerbated by the impacts of the pandemic. Bills passed in the Senate and Assembly during the last legislative session include the decriminalization of syringes, removal of prior authorization for medication, and allowing incarcerated individuals to receive treatment.

But there’s also a push for the state to establish overdose prevention centers, facilities where those struggling with drug use can use under supervision.

“We know that [prevention centers[ are a crucial step towards ending overdose, and something that would save many people that we’re here commemorating today,” said Luke Grandis, the Upstate Lead Organizer for Vocal NY.

For Grandis, this advocacy work is personal. “I know firsthand how important it is to be met with options and care, when it’s extremely, extremely difficult to access things like medication-assisted treatment,” he said. “Even for someone as privileged as I am.”

Elsewhere in the Capital Region, Saratoga County is holding county-wide Narcan training at nearly a dozen sites. In Schoharie County, a candlelight vigil will be held on Tuesday night to recognize those impacted by the opioid epidemic, with over 30 overdoses and seven deaths in the county so far this year.