Walking through stigma of addiction in Upper Darby
UPPER DARBY » Stacey Bruhn-Robinson had no idea how much she would be helping people on Saturday afternoon.
In speaking with her friend Tina Hamilton she revealed through tears of joy that two people signed up for recovery at Upper Darby’s first Drug Prevention and Education Community Day at Arlington Cemetery. A day she coordinated with the township to provide drug and overdose education turned into a possible lifechanging event for those two people who sought to get help.
“There was somebody that walked with us in the beginning who talked about needing recovery and we just hooked her up with some place to go,” said Bruhn. “At the end, somebody came up talking about recovery and we just hooked her up.
“This was better than the ultimate goal.”
At the heart of Saturday’s event was the Andy Forever Overdose Awareness Walk, a stroll through the grounds of Arlington Cemetery for people to remember loved ones who have lost their lives to drugs. The walk’s namesake is that of Charles “Andy” Bruhn, the eldest of Stacey’s five children who lost his life to an overdose in April 2017.
With family and friends she started the nonprofit organization Andy Forever, Inc. to break the stigma of recovery and to help people who are in the early stages of recovery. Andy’s namesake has been used to stand for Addiction Never Defines You (Forever).
“It became that we needed to do more,” said Bruhn about reaching out to the community and coordinating Saturday’s event. “We came up with this, and we thought what a better way than to hold a fair with different vendors, recovery specialists and behavioral health specialists?
“We wanted to bring awareness, to educate the community. Anybody who needed education, anyone who needed to know signs or symptoms of addiction, how prevalent it is ... it (addiction) has no boundaries.”
Through a collection of 24 vendors that include recovery centers like Gaudenzia and Recovery Center of America, and other informational booths like the Delco Heroin Task Force, people were treated to a number of educational platforms surrounding drug prevention.
Outside of community members like Bruhn who have been directly affected by a loss in their family are the policymakers and enforcers who are left trying to handle the growing breadth of the problem that has claimed over 5,400 lives in Pennsylvania in 2017 alone
according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, state Rep. Jamie Santora, R-163 of Upper Darby, Upper Darby Mayor Tom Micozzie and Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood spoke at the community day to provide their own perspectives about community outreach in this drug scourge.
“The issue impacts us as a community, it impacts individuals, families,” he said. “I truly believe there’s not a family in America that’s not impacted in some way, shape or form with this horrible disease of addiction. We see it in the streets of Upper Darby all of the time. With the use of Narcan it’s been a saving grace for those who are addicted.
“Those people who are addicted need the help that they can get, and I think slowly but surely we’re getting there.”
Copeland said it is her job to hold people responsible, but also to recognize “when people are in the criminal justice system because of an addiction.” “That’s part of my office’s goal to help people with treatment and not individuals who will commit crimes who are afflicted, and not put them in jail because they are an addict; to help provide for them,” she said.
Copeland added, “If they don’t take advantage of that moment then we’ll do it again, and if they don’t take advantage of that moment, we’ll do it again. There is no end to that.”
It was Copeland who started the county’s treatment court as an assistant district attorney in 1998 which has helped people get court-ordered treatment for their addictions in lieu of incarceration.
Working with Santora, Bruhn will be establishing a community safe space for addicts on Fridays and Saturdays, days that could be triggers for illicit activity that may fuel their drug habit. The goal is to have people be able to engage socially and have access to certified recovery specialists. Further information on when and where this space will open was not available Saturday as it is still in its preliminary stages.
Until then, Bruhn and the Andy Forever foundation will keep assisting people with the resources they need to get help and holding annual walks in honor of the thousands who have lost their lives.
“We’re going to walk and keep walking every year to remember those lost and keep fighting to get those that need help into recovery,” said Bruhn.
Stacey Bruhn-Robinson hugs Tina Hamilton after revealing that two people signed up for recovery at Saturday’s event. Bruhn said witnessing those sign-ups was “better than the ultimate goal” of educating the community about drug addiction. Bruhn lost her son Charles “Andy” to a drug addiction in April 2017 and helped coordinate the community event with the township.
State Rep. Jamie Santora, R-163 of Upper Darby, speaks at the Drug Prevention and Education Community Day which was put on at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill with the help of Betty Jean Cicchinelli, back left, and Stacey BruhnRobinson, back right.
Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, right, hugs Stacey Bruhn-Robinson for inspiring the community to get engaged and help fight future drug overdose fatalities. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, drug deaths in the state have increased from 3,500 in 2015 to 5,400 in 2017.