Honoring loved ones lost to overdose, Adams County Overdose Awareness Task Force held its third annual International Overdose Awareness Day Walk Tuesday.
Aiming to erase the stigma associated with overdose, the task force aims to open conversation about addiction and provide preventive measurement for the community.
International Overdose Awareness Day is the world’s largest annual campaign to end overdose, according to Andrea Dolges, Executive Director of Center For Youth and Community Development (CFYCD).
Aug. 31 is a day to remember those who have died without stigma and acknowledge the grief of the family and friends left behind, she said.
CFYCD aims to prevent that addiction in the first place through preventive measures to the community including providing free medication lock boxes and opioid overdose prevention kits (Narcan) with no questions asked.
Picture what you think of an addict, every stereotype, every misconception, and every assumption of how an addict gets hooked, now erase it because it’s just not true, according to Colin Suber, RASE (Recovery Advocacy Service Empowerment) Project Supervisor for York and Adams County.
Having lost too many loved ones to overdose, Suber’s focus lies in diminishing the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health and maximizing resources for the recovery community.
The stigma and shame associated with addiction often prevents people from getting much needed help, he said.
Suber works as a supervisor for the newly developed Mercy House Recovery Center on High Street to provide resources and help to those who need it, without regards to financial stability or insurance, he said.
The Mercy House, expected to open mid-September, will be the first substance abuse recovery center in Adams County. The facility will have public space for information, counseling, and other addiction services, according to Suber.
When someone falls, the best thing to do is help them up, not to punish them, Suber said.
There were eight confirmed overdose deaths in Adams County in 2018 and by 2020 that number had more than doubled to 20, Dolges said.
“People are not just numbers,” but family members, friends, and part of the community that has taken notice of their loss, she said.
“People’s lives have been affected by overdose, we want to see the county live drug free, that’s why we’re here. We walk for a reason,” Dolges said.
More than thirty members of the community came out in solidarity to end the cycle of addiction.
“It is a blessing to be able to honor those we’ve lost,” Suber said.
The seemingly simple stroll from the Adams County Courthouse to the Gettysburg Area Recreation Park, is symbolic of recovery, according to County Commissioner Jim Martin.
“Recovery is step-by-step, day-by day,” he said.
The march stopped by the newly developed Mercy House where participants were encouraged to sign a banner naming why they were walking.
Wearing black shirts designed with angel wings and purple overdose ribbons, Crystal Felton walked with her family to honor Lexus Felton, her sister who died of an overdose in 2018.
Lexus was 21 years old when she bought what she thought was heroin but was in fact heavily laced with fentanyl, she said.
“Everyone knows someone who has passed away to addiction or lives with constant fear of losing a loved one,” she said.
Felton walked with her family to erase stigma and open communication about addiction before it is too late.
“It’s okay to talk about it, it’s important to reach out and have these conversations,” Felton said.
Aaliyah Unkle, 15, a Fairfield High School sophomore and Collaborating For Youth (CFY) volunteer, walked as a reminder to “family members who almost overdosed,” but were able to overcome through support, she said.
Unkle said it felt good to promote the task force and inform the community about the severity of addiction.
Martin encouraged everyone to reach out to those who may be struggling with addiction to seek help, not just for themselves but for the people around them.
“Overdose is a reality and too many lives have been ruined due to it,” he said.
Adams County Overdose Awareness Task Force meets every third Tuesday of the month and September marks National Recovery Month.
More information about CFYCD and the Adams County Overdose Awareness Task Force can be found at https://www.cfygettysburg.com/.