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  • During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
  • During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
  • During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
  • Mandy Larkins of Anne Arundel Medical Center’s Pathways and Serenity Sistas’ founder Angel Traynor were among the guest speakers at International Overdose Awareness Day.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    Mandy Larkins of Anne Arundel Medical Center’s Pathways and Serenity Sistas’ founder Angel Traynor were among the guest speakers at International Overdose Awareness Day.

“If You’re Alive Today, There’s Hope”

Zach Sparks
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September 7, 2017

Severna Park Residents On The Importance Of Overdose Awareness Day

As more than 800 people gathered at Arundel Christian Church in Glen Burnie for the second annual International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, remembering lives lost to addiction while celebrating the strides made by others, several Severna Park families roamed throughout the crowd, underscoring an important point: No section of Anne Arundel County or Maryland is exempt from the opioid epidemic.

From January 1 through August 30 of this year, there have been 729 overdoses in Anne Arundel County, 94 of which were fatal. During the same timeframe in 2016, there were 576 overdoses, 81 of which were fatal. Eastern District – which encompasses Severna Park, Arnold, Pasadena and parts of Annapolis and Glen Burnie – has had the second most overdoes in 2017 with 179 overdoses, 20 of which were fatal. Only Northern District has seen more overdoses this year.

The local version of International Overdose Awareness Day included a candlelight vigil, a slideshow of remembrance, new music from classically trained vocalist Elio Scaccio and Delores and Brian Cook, guest speakers like Chrysalis House Executive Director Chris McCabe and widow Jen Tippett, and an invitation for people to seek help.

“The night is all about not sharing data, although there will be some of that, but about helping reduce the stigma,” said Carol Boyer, the event director and community relations director for Maryland House Detox. “People think it’s just a candlelight vigil, but there is direct access to care. … Are we reducing overdoses? Are we reducing stigma? So many people are suffering in silence.”

A handful of Severna Park residents had reason to celebrate, or mourn, on International Overdose Awareness Day: State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who lost a brother-in-law earlier this year, and Luke Turner, a 19-year-old celebrating seven months of recovery with his mom, Tammy Turner, at his side.

“There are a lot of misconceptions still about what addiction is and what it looks like and how you can move forward with it,” Tammy said. “Overdose Awareness Day, while remembering those who have lost lives, it offers hope. That’s huge.”

Luke attributed several factors to the onset of his addiction. At 14, he was drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and experimenting with painkillers. He also had bipolar disorder, although he did not know it then. “My senior year, I was drinking every other night if not every night,” said Luke, who graduated from Severna Park High School in 2016. “My life started slipping away.”

A bassist, Luke left Severna Park for his freshman semester at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. “That was my ticket out of this lifestyle, but unfortunately things don’t work that way,” he said.

He dabbled in cocaine and barbiturates. During the January of his first collegiate year, he separated his shoulder while skateboarding. He was prescribed painkillers. Then came a discovery that every family fears.

“He had left for school and I was stripping the sheets off the bed,” Tammy recalled. “I went to get a water bottle when I saw a mechanical pencil case that was empty, but it looked like it had a powdery residue. I’m not savvy about drugs, but I thought, ‘This doesn’t look good.’”

Tammy Googled the device and discovered that it could be used to snort pills. She gave her son an ultimatum: get clean or get kicked out.

“Honestly, it was heartbreaking. My knee-jerk reaction was how sad I felt that he had been struggling,” she said. “[My husband and I] knew something was wrong, but we didn’t know the depth. We knew he went to parties and drank and smoked pot, but we had no clue about the other types of drugs.”

After a month-long rehab in Memphis, Tennessee, Luke got clean on January 22, 2017. Then the real challenge started.

“It helped me to talk to addicts who have much more sobriety under their belts who told me how hard it was going to be and didn’t shy away from it,” Luke acknowledged. “Like, ‘Yeah, you’re done rehab now. It’s only going to get harder.’”

Nick Hileman, the brother-in-law of Wes Adams, was not as lucky. “The strange thing is that we never really noticed it,” Adams said of Hileman’s early struggles. “Nick lived in Arizona, and a lot of times he would come in for visits being jetlagged, which is not a big deal. He would go out to catch up with friends, and he was only in town for so long and he was a popular guy, so that never surprised me.”

Almost three years ago, Adams did become surprised. Hileman started taking pills for what he claimed was back pain or a dental procedure. He was shooting heroin. He lost a job, regained his sobriety and found another job.

Hileman eventually entered a 28-day inpatient treatment program, and met other people he connected with. He seemed in good spirits when he visited Adams and his family for Christmas in 2016. Then he returned to Arizona. He was 99 days sober. He went to a narcotics anonymous meeting, and then he made another stop. “The narcotic he recovered was Fentanyl, and it killed him,” Adams said.

He left behind a wife and 2-year-old son. “Addiction is illogical,” Adams said. “Logic would say you have a child, you have a wife, you have a nice job. Why would you ‘throw it away.’”

Since then, the war against addiction has taken on a personal significance for Adams. He is thrilled to partner with the Anne Arundel County and Annapolis City fire and police departments, Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency and the Department of Health to start the Safe Stations program.

Since April 20, as many as 150 people have gone to local fire stations to get help with their opioid addiction. During August, an average of two people per day asked for assistance.

“If you’re alive today, there’s hope,” Adams said. “There are people all around that want to give you the tools to survive. It’s one of the reasons I am part of the Safe Stations program. We work to give people an opportunity to get better.”

At the national level, the Fed Up Coalition has urged the Food and Drug Administration to remove ultra-high dosage unit opioids from the market.

As for Luke Turner, he feels lucky that he realized his problem at a young age, when many of his peers can’t see the value in a life without getting high.

“As far as my future, I have a couple of ideas – study abroad or go back to school – but the important thing is that I see a future for myself,” he said. “Before, I didn’t know if I was going to be alive the next day. While I don’t have any big plans, I don’t feel the need to.”

By reducing the stigma of addiction — a major goal of International Overdose Awareness Day — Tammy believes more people will seek help, just as her son did.

“We need to look at it more as a disease than as a moral failing,” she said. “If we do that, I think the better equipped we as a community are to help each other.”


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