Event to tackle opi­oid abuse

The Ch­ester County Color 5K will shine light on the opi­oid epi­demic and re­cov­ery ef­forts

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

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

many.”

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

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