By Juli McDonald

NEWTON (CBS) – A stunning sea of flags takes up the whole lawn outside Newton-Wellesley Hospital. “Every time you push one of these flags into the grass you think about that person, that friend, that daughter,” said Dr. Antje Barreveld.

Rows and rows representing real people. More than 2,100 of our Massachusetts neighbors, taken by opioid overdose last year alone.

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“Within COVID, it has been devastating. Devastating for individuals to have had the losses they’ve had with not only family members, jobs, income, their way of life,” said Dr. Catharina Armstrong.

The display is a passion project for two Newton-Wellesley physicians. They created the hospital’s Substance Use Services program to provide compassionate care for their patients in pain.

Flags outside Newton-Wellesley Hospital representing lives lost to opioid overdoses in Massachusetts (WBZ-TV)

“I think one of the hardest parts is stigma. Many people don’t know where to turn. They’re ashamed. They’re embarrassed. They feel they’ve committed a moral failing and that they’re not a good person. No. This is a disease. And this disease is treatable,” said Barreveld.

As thousands of runners chase the finish the line in the 125th Boston Marathon Monday, these flags will wave them on. Both doctors are also running – with each flag in mind, each person in their hearts… every step of the way.

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“They’re with us in spirit. We run for them now,” Armstrong said.

“We have a lot of work to do, and yet we’re making strides,” Barreveld added.

They run to raise money for recovery: local life saving groups – SOAR Natick and the Boston Bulldogs.

“People get better. People are supported. It’s okay to ask for help,” said Dr. Armstrong.

“Recovery is possible. Hope is possible. This is enough. We need to do something about it, and as a community,” Dr. Barreveld said.

More help and resources are available through the Massachusetts Substance Use Helpline. Call 800-327-5050.

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The Helpline is a statewide, public resource for finding substance use treatment, recovery, and problem gambling services. Helpline services are free and confidential.

Juli McDonald