For all those who have suffered, the Volusia Recovery Alliance hosted its second annual Keeping Hope: Overdose Awareness & Remembrance Day event Aug. 29 on the grounds of Daytona Beach Christian Drive-In Church.
The church sponsored the event along with SMA Healthcare.
International Overdose Awareness Day is a global event that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died or had a permanent injury as a result of drug overdose.
“I'm a family member in recovery from the effects that substance use disorder has had on my family and I’ve been involved in the recovery community for three years, said Cathy Hart, event chairman and a VRA board members. “I became involved because someone whom I love very much, a family member, was suffering from a substance use disorder and I was suffering, too. I was fully consumed with worry and fear along with blame, judgment and shame, and thinking that I knew what was 'right.' I was focused in a way that was not only causing my own harm, I was contributing to pain in my family.”
There is no straight path to recovery from an overdose death.
“My path of recovery has actually included many pathways … and I truly believe it’s taken them all to get me where I am today,” Ms. Hart said. “I am grateful for the continual recovery I’ve been in and how I’ve learned to let go of thinking and believing that I could control anything outside of me and I became in touch with the power I have within me.”
People in the recovery community are huge, said Karen Chrapek, a recovery coach and VRA president who has been in recovery for 37 years.
“Millions of Americans are part of the recovering community,” Ms. Chrapek said. “The problem remains that many people still don’t know that recovery is possible. My reasons for continuing my use of alcohol and drugs were many, the biggest one being that I was a well-respected healthcare professional. Stigma plus fear of judgment and discrimination were barriers to asking for help. It took many years to be OK with revealing my history of substance use despite helping thousands of women find and maintain recovery.
“Overdoses and drug use tragedies make headlines – recovery successes not so much,” she said. “Since hope is a catalyst for recovery, the freedom to share one’s journey goes a long way in making it OK to ask for help.”
The Awareness & Remembrance event featured Volusia County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, presenting VRA a proclamation.
The keynote speaker was Dr. Aaron Wohl, medical director of the Orlando nonprofit Project Opioid.
“Addiction is labeled as continued compulsive use, despite negative social consequences,” Dr. Wohl said. “In addition, it is often associated with profound dishonesty.”
He helped craft legislation to reduce some of the morbidity and mortality associated with the opioid crisis.
VRA has just become a DCF Naloxone/Narcan provider. Narcan is a medication designed to rapidly reduce opioid overdose and has saved many lives and gives people the chance of recovery. Narcan is also available off the website projectopioid.org.
Overdose survivors “Ryan” and “Kyle” spoke passionately and graphically about their recovery journey. Kyle said in part “Next week, God willing, I’ll have 18 months. That’s the longest I’ve ever been sober. In this time, I’ve got my own car, my own insurance for that car, and a valid license. All these things I have accomplished in recovery this time. I never stuck it out long enough to give myself a chance to reach those goals before.”
Two other speakers, “Sarah” and “Cassie” spoke from a deep sense of grief, having lost loved ones. Cassie lost her mother, Kate; Sarah her friend Chris, who died in May. Sarah said, “I know Chris didn’t want to die. Addiction is a disease and unfortunately he wasn’t strong enough to fight his demons. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed (to reach out). Reaching out may save your life.”
The program ended with names being read of those who have died from overdoses.
Ms. Hart, who coordinates between the VRA and the Volusia County Sheriff's Office, stated in a later email that there were 145 fatal drug overdoses in 2019 in Volusia and there were at least 716 lives saved by Narcan and Community Members. As of Aug. 25, Volusia may have had 180 fatal drug overdoses with 119 of those confirmed and 61 suspected and waiting for medical examiner reports.
Narcan (Naloxone) was deployed on 806 total overdose calls. In 40 of those calls, the patient died, so 766 patients survived.
For more information, visit volusiarecoveryalliance.org or call the help line at at (386) 777-7337.