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HomeHealthFacing Addiction, Together

Facing Addiction, Together

Local advocacy groups join to help solve the crisis in their community.

When Denise Williams’s children were younger, the Pasadena mother did everything she could for them. She went to concerts, track meets and did all the things good moms do. She had two amazing sons and never thought she would lose one, much less both, to addiction. Ryan was a star athlete in high school and according to her, “He put Northeast on the map for his outstanding running ability.” His twin brother, Matthew, was a talented musician. Typical teenagers, they experimented with alcohol at parties, but there were no major indicators of the nightmare that would follow.

AddictionGraphicAfter college, failed relationships and financial situations drove Ryan to seek an escape from his problems. His brother, who was already dabbling in drugs to deal with his own mental health issues, introduced him to heroin as a coping mechanism. After a three-year battle with addiction, Ryan died at the age of 29. “Matthew lived three more years after Ryan, but I think that though he was physically here, he died the same day as his brother. He couldn’t live with the depression and guilt. He couldn’t live with the drugs and he couldn’t live without them.”

Tweens, teenagers, artists and athletes. Sons, daughters, parents and grandparents. Black, white, Hispanic. Public school students, private school students. These are the lives cut short by addiction. In 2018 there were 1,077 total overdoses in Anne Arundel County—166 of which were fatal. The first month of 2019 has shown little improvement, with 76 total overdoses, 13 of which were fatal.

Recent headlines often highlight an opioid crisis. But Debi Keane says that the tragedy of addiction in our community is nothing new. Keane is chair of Facing Addiction Anne Arundel, the local chapter of the national nonprofit committed to bringing together resources to reduce the human and social costs of addiction.
“Addiction has had a strong hold on Anne Arundel County for a long time,” she says, “manifesting as alcoholism, cocaine/crack addiction, and prescription abuse/addiction. The current opioid crisis has spotlighted the crisis due to the fatal overdoses from fentanyl opioids.”

Although addiction is nothing new, Keane notes that “the age of the user has progressively gotten younger. The potency of the drugs has gotten much stronger, i.e. the introduction of fentanyl has changed the game of addiction.”

That game changer extends to treatment as well. “Where in the past addicts would hit ‘bottom’ and seek treatment,” Keane says, “the fentanyl is actually killing people before they have a chance to hit that bottom. However, I believe that the tide may start to change with the new awareness that people are dying and that addiction knows no boundaries.”

Addiction does not limit its destruction to the user. Keane describes it as a “generational trauma” due to the record number of children impacted by it. “Those with fatal overdoses are leaving children behind in record numbers. Some of those children are lucky enough to have extended family take them in, the rest are going into the foster system and taxing an already overburdened Child Protective Services division of the Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services.”

Another organization, Recovery Anne Arundel, was established in 2008 as a small group of stakeholders in the community interested in becoming change agents for individuals in or seeking recovery. Today the organization has grown to over 40 active members and over 100 supporters working together to educate and empower others on the experience and process of recovery, through advocacy and special events.

Facing Addiction is under the umbrella of Recovery Anne Arundel. Both focus on the Community by advocating and engaging family and loved ones impacted by addiction. Our power is in our experience,” says Keane. “We had to navigate the labyrinth of seeking help for a loved one and are trying to ease that path for others similarly affected. We want to streamline the process.”

Recovery Anne Arundel is also affiliated with Serenity Sistas, an Annapolis nonprofit that offers supportive housing to individuals in recovery from substance misuse. Angel Traynor, director of Serenity Sistas and coordinator of Recovery Anne Arundel, saw an opportunity in late 2016 to partner with the national arm of Facing Addiction on its new initiative concerning community engagement. Anne Arundel County was chosen as one of the first 15 communities nationwide to start the pilot “Community Project.”

The Community Project will bring together resources to combat the addiction crisis, including securing increased localized funding, training advocates, working with elected officials, providing media guidance to highlight solutions, and working with those in the community directly affected by addiction. As part of this outreach, they are inviting community members to attend open meetings to learn more.

“The sessions are designed to provide an opportunity for people who have loved ones in active addiction or in recovery to share what obstacles they’ve encountered, what supports they most need, and what has worked well for them,” according to Keane.

The meetings will include information about local resources that can be helpful, but organizers are also hoping attendees will contribute information that might be helpful to others. Keane says based on what is shared at the meetings, organizers will then develop resource guides and seek new ways to get the best information available to the people who need it. By informing public officials the specific needs of the communities, Keane hopes that programs can be tailored to meet them head on.

In addition to the open forum, each session will begin with a free NARCAN training class, which will teach the use of intranasal naloxone, a prescription medicine that when used properly, can reverse an opioid overdose and prevent death. The training is recommended for at-risk individuals, family members, friends and the associates of any individual who is using and at risk of overdosing not just on heroin, but prescription opioid pain medications as well. After completing the training, participants will receive a free naloxone kit to administer to victims of an opioid overdose.

No one likes to think addiction can strike their family. Today, Denise Williams is an active member of Recovery Anne Arundel. She urges parents, families and friends to attend the Community Listening Sessions.

“Knowing what I know today, addiction is not something that is chosen. The only way for it to stop is for there to be no new users,“ says Keane. “Come to the meetings to learn what you can do now. Even if your child is in elementary school, you have to start the discussion. Most middle schoolers are already testing the waters—they have tried alcohol, pot, Juuls. [With my kids] I thought, ‘It’s just a phase.’ No one told me drugs today are more potent, more addictive. This is real. Come to the meetings to get educated and understand how addiction works. You have the power to stop the epidemic.”

For more information about Recovery Anne Arundel visit recoveryannearundel.org. Questions on Recovery Anne Arundel can be directed to Angel Traynor, Executive Director of Serenity Sistas Inc., at serenitysista1@gmail.com.

For more information about Facing Addiction Anne Arundel visit recoveryannearundel.org/facing-addiction.

—Joyce Heid

Upcoming Community Listening Sessions


March 21
West Arundel Creative Arts, NARCAN training,
6–6:30 p.m.; open discussion, 6:30–8 p.m.

March 26
Community United Methodist Church, NARCAN training, 6:30–7 p.m.; open discussion, 7–8:30 p.m.

April 4
Arundel Christian Church, NARCAN training, 6–6:30 p.m.; open discussion, 6:30–8 p.m.

 In addition to the Community Listening Sessions, Facing Addiction Anne Arundel holds a monthly meeting the second Tuesday of every month at the Panera Bread located at 8125 Ritchie Highway in Pasadena at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome.
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