Event to tackle opioid abuse
The Chester County Color 5K will shine light on the opioid epidemic and recovery efforts
Those who plan to participate in the Chester County Color 5K event are hoping for some light to shine this coming Saturday as hundreds gather for the fun race — both literally and figuratively.
“The daylight destroys shame,” said John Gailey, chairman of the Chester County chapter of PROACT, a grassroots organization working to reduce the stigma of drug addiction and substance abuse, among both addicts themselves and those around them.
Events like the Color 5K, which will feature “color dusting” at multiple locations across West Chester, where the county government-organized event will be held, help those affected by the current opioid addiction epidemic in the county “not be ashamed,” Gailey said in an interview last week in advance of the run.
“There is a lot of talk about the stigma (of addiction) and the shame it brings with it,” he said. “Shame for the addict; shame for the family. And that is what helps destroy so many people and so many families. It keeps people from seeking help.” He said that a lesson his advocacy had taken from AIDS activists in the 1990s was that a necessary element to battling the disease is to take away the stigmas that accompany it.
“Shame cannot live in the sunlight,” he said. “And I will tell everyone and anyone who will listen that.”
Gailey’s message resonates with Ashton Stacey, a recovering heroin addict who now works as a recovery counselor in Delaware County, after having graduated from the county’s Recovery Court program.
“I see patients come and go and come back to rehab embarrassed,” she said last week by telephone. “But that’s not uncommon. Everyone’s journey is everyone’s journey. I tell them they should feel privileged (to return). They made it back. So many don’t.”
Stacey and Gailey and others associated with the fight against the opioid addiction stress that
“Shame for the addict; shame for the family. And that is what helps destroy so many people and so many families. It keeps people from seeking help.” — John Gailey, chairman of the Chester County chapter of PRO-ACT, a grassroots organization working to reduce the stigma of drug addiction and substance abuse
the stigma of drug addiction keeps those affected from seeing themselves as part of a larger picture, and restrains them from getting proper help. And they reject that stigma.
“This disease is not racist, it is not biased,” said Stacey, a Honey Brook native who said she went from smoking marijuana at 14 to taking heroin at 16 in the rural, blue collar area of Twin Valley. “This affects everyone. Upper class, Lower class. It is an epidemic. It really is.”
Gailey said he became drawn into the world of addiction recovery through the experience of his son, Alex, who at middle school and high school in the West Chester Area School District began using alcohol and then prescription drugs to self-medicate against his social anxiety. The retired West Pharmaceutical Services executive and his wife even found themselves kidnapping their son to take him to a recovery program.
Alex has now been sober for four years, and Gailey has used his position as a PRO-ACT advocate to raise awareness of the epidemic.
The county’s Color 5K is a high profile way of raising awareness of the opioid problem in the county, as well as generating seed money for the county’s “warm hand-off” initiative, said county Commissioner Michelle Kichline, who has taken a leadership role in its organization. In an interview in her office at the county’s administrative building, she recalled how she had become aware of the recovery initiatives throughout the county during her election campaign in 2015.
It made her ask, “What
are we doing as a county to address what I think is a critical aspect of our approach to the epidemic — recovery,” she said. “Despite our being the healthiest and wealthiest county in the state, there is a gap in getting recovery.” Too many times, addicts who overdose on pills or heroin are taken to a hospital, where they are treated and released — without a way to address the underlying problem.
The “warm hand-off” idea would help local hospitals get those patients into a recovery program — immediately, upon discharge — where they can start the long and arduous process of becoming sober, Kichline said. “It answers the question, ‘How do we get people to recovery?’”
Kichline agreed with Stacey and Gailey that there is no doubt the national opioid addiction epidemic has taken its toll in the county on all levels. Her office provided statistics that show one in four Americans are impacted by substance abuse, and a rate of 56 opioid overdose deaths in the county in 2015. Emergency responders report that they used the overdose reversal drug Naloxone 93 times last year across 26 county municipalities.
“Chester County has been relatively lucky in that we saw this problem coming and began to create barriers and protections for our children,” said county District Attorney Tom Hogan, another official involved in the Color 5K event.
“We established the Drug Drop Box program to dispose of prescription opioids. We worked with our legislators to draft and enact the Good Samaritan legislation, providing for the availability of Naloxone to help save lives and creating a safe harbor provision for people reporting overdoses
all across Pennsylvania. Chester County is one of the few counties in Pennsylvania where every police department carries Naloxone,” he said.
“The bottom line is that through teamwork involving the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, the courts, our legislators,
our health agencies, and the Chester County commissioners, we are doing as much or more than any county in Pennsylvania to fight this scourge,” said Hogan. “The Color Run is one more way for us to broadcast the message about the dangers presented by these drugs. Because even one death is too
The “Color 5K” — sponsored in part by Egalet and Fox Rothschild — is a fun, non-competitive run and walk event where participants begin the event in a cloudburst of color, then are doused in vibrant colored powder (non-toxic corn starch) as they pass by color stations along the 5K route. The event is designed for adults and children.
The event will begin in Everhart Park in West Chester. Registration begins at 8 a.m. and the race starts at 9 a.m. Nov. 5. For details on the event, and to register to run or walk, go to http:// chesco.org/color5k.
“The bottom line is that through teamwork involving the District Attorney’s Office, law enforcement, the courts, our legislators, our health agencies, and the Chester County commissioners, we are doing as much or more than any county in Pennsylvania to fight this scourge. The Color Run is one more way for us to broadcast the message about the dangers presented by these drugs. Because even one death is too many.” — County District Attorney Tom Hogan