DARIEN — According to Holly Jespersen, senior communication manager for Shatterproof, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing instances of social isolation, depression and anxiety, and substance use to be on the rise.

To that end, though Shatterproof had to cancel its annual 5K run/walk this year, it’s announced a new virtual event, the Shatterproof Stronger Than Addiction Challenge, featuring a performance by Grammy-winning musician Melissa Etheridge.

Shatterproof is a national nonprofit organization based in Connecticut that is dedicated to helping families deal with their addicted loved ones. CEO Gary Mendell lost his son Brian to addiction.

In conjunction with state stay-at-home orders, Shatterproof has seen a 17.5 percent increase in fatal overdoses over the same time period last year, according to Courtney Gallo Hunter, vice president, state policy, at Shatterproof.

“There is a clear correlation between the pandemic and overdose deaths. The isolation, stress, and economic devestation of COVID-19 is fueling America's addiction crisis,” she said.

One opportunity to stem the tide, Hunter said, is by increasing access to naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose.

“While people are using drugs in isolation and at home, family and friends need to have naloxone on them and in the house,” Hunter said.

The idea of the Shatterproof challenge is for people to commit to doing a bold challenge on Sept. 26, while many others do them simultaneously around the country. Examples given by Shatterpoof include walking, cycling, painting, hiking or inviting fundraisers to get creative. That afternoon, the group will come together via Zoom for the Etheridge concert for Shatterproof Challenge participants.

One team from Darien participating are those who have organized the “For Michael” challenge in the past for Michael Taylor. Taylor was a Darien High grad who lost his battle with opioid addiction in 2016 at age 26. The For Michael event was an annual event at Weed Beach involving a build-your-own boat race to raise money for Shatterproof. Like many other events, this was also canceled due to the pandemic.

“On a larger scale, it brings together groups from Fairfield County, and beyond, to join together in the fight against addiction in a meaningful way. The group we assembled at Weed Beach every year, for the past few years, raised money to help Shatterproof end the opioid crisis and the stigma surrounding addiction,” said Will Bergen, one of the members of the For Michael team.

“With the Stronger than Addiction Challenge, Shatterproof is asking that people choose any activity (run, swim, paint, sing, etc) that shows a willingness to challenge themselves on behalf of raising awareness in solidarity with others. With that in mind, our group will continue our boat race on a much smaller scale and encourage others to participate however they can,” he said.

Bergen said the For Michael group has seized the opportunity to participate in this event.

“We are committed to being a part of this effort and keeping Shatterproof's mission alive,” he said.

“Our goal is to grow the community of people who understand that addiction is a disease that should be met with empathy and understanding. Finally, we hope to continue to do what Michael Taylor would have wanted us to do, keep moving forward, as a group, with smiles on our faces,” he said.

On the morning of Sept. 26, attendees should wear the registration T-shirt (and mask), and complete the challenge. Those participants should take photos or videos and share them through social media channels using the hashtag #StrongerThanAddiction.

That afternoon, after everyone has had time to complete their challenge, the group will come together for a virtual gathering with Etheridge.

In May, Etheridge lost her son, Beckett, 21, to addiction. On Twitter, Etheridge issued a statement that she had “joined the hundreds of thousands of families who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction.”

“My heart is broken,” she continued at the time. “I am grateful for those who have reached out with condolences, and I feel their love and sincere grief. We struggle with what else we could have done to save him, and in the end we know he is out of the pain now.”

This month, Etheridge said, “I look forward to coming together with Shatterproof, an organization dedicated to reversing the addiction crisis in the U.S., and all of the people who been impacted by addiction who are coming together this September to make change.”

Register for the Shatterproof challenge here, either as an individual or with a team. For more on Shatterproof’s efforts visit shatterproof.org.