GEORGETOWN — A Delaware-based nonprofit whose mission is to educate and empower communities against the disease of addiction is in recovery mode itself.
Severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, atTAcK addiction is on the comeback trail in southern Delaware, with plans to resume more personalized services and events structured to bring awareness to the destructive impact of alcohol and drug abuse and the stigma often associated with addiction.
“We are working on reinvigorating our Sussex chapter,” said Dawn Fischer, an atTAcK addiction board member.
That return took a big step Tuesday — which was International Overdose Awareness Day — with a candlelight vigil on The Circle in Georgetown.
“With Sussex County, we have taken a huge increase in overdose deaths throughout the past year during COVID. It has also increased the suicide rate with mental health, which kind of goes together with the co-occurring,” said Amy Rust, who spearheaded the event. “This is a chance for us to provide people with support, resources and, hopefully, bring the community together to break the stigma on addiction, mental health, all of it.”
Restrictions and public health concerns during the pandemic made “it so we couldn’t meet in person. It broke down a lot of the support groups for the families to go and be able to have somebody to share their story with and not feel like an oddball or a stigma against them,” said Ms. Rust. “That has been really hard. A lot of people don’t take good to Zoom. It’s not very personal.”
Ms. Fischer added that “fellowship” aids with recovery.
“We are resurrecting our in-person meetings, starting on Sept. 13. We’ve been doing them virtually, and we’re trying to gather folks from here to come to that meeting, so that they can help us plan and kind of drive the direction and the presence in Sussex going forward,” she said. “We are working on building a schedule of events that will happen here in Sussex, everything from young-people-in-recovery events with bowling events … to our 5K next year, probably in the springtime.”
Ms. Fischer, her husband, Karl Fischer, and their family are close friends with Jeanne and Don Keister, who founded atTAcK addiction following the death of their son, Tyler Keister, in December 2012.
Overdoses are the No. 1 cause of accidental death in the country, and in 2020, there were approximately 93,000 fatal overdoses — the highest number recorded in one year, Ms. Fischer said.
In observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, Gov. John Carney ordered flags to be lowered Tuesday and urged anyone struggling with the disease or their families to visit here.
Ms. Rust said addiction is indeed one of the biggest health issues in America. “But it is not one of the most addressed. That is why we are here, to try to educate people, bring people together and make people understand they are not alone,” she said.
Several other organizations with similar missions attended the vigil Tuesday.
One was Oxford House, which has 13 houses in Sussex County, 74 houses in the state and 3,000 worldwide, according to Anthony Lewis, its senior outreach coordinator for Delaware.
“It is a very important thing for me,” said Mr. Lewis, who is nine years in recovery from addiction. “Three guys that lived in the Oxford House that I live in passed away this last year, after they had moved out. It’s important. The stigma is real.
“I think it’s a little more prevalent in Sussex County. Whether or not people understand addiction or understand how it starts or what leads to it, it really shouldn’t matter. People’s mothers and fathers and children and grandchildren are losing their lives every day. We have to make sure we do our part to make sure that we can help make it a little better,” he added. “If we can help one person, we’ve done our job.”
Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes, whose family has also experienced the heartbreak of addiction, welcomed the outreach.
“I feel the support. When I see the purple shirts, it means a lot to me. We suffered a loss, my nephew, who died from an overdose. Every day, it is a struggle. We’re in this together,” said Chief Hughes. “When Anthony (Lewis) said that if we can help just one person, you’ve been a success. Yes. Because if it could have been my nephew, or it could have been your brother or your sister or your father or your son, it would have been a success. So I know that pain.”
Officers from several branches of local and state law enforcement attended the event.
“We have to do things differently. I am very happy to tell you that your police department … are working very hard on this issue,” Chief Hughes added. “Many agencies now have embedded mental health commissions at our agencies, helping with mental health issues. We are trying to do different. When you know better, you can do better.”
Thresholds Inc., which has been operating in Georgetown for 30 years with outpatient treatment and a 10-bed sober-living house for men, has plans to soon relocate from Dupont Boulevard to a new North Railroad Avenue location.
Plans may include another housing component, said Susan Harris, treatment director for Thresholds.
Tuesday’s ceremony was punctuated by a poem read by 41-year-old Daniel “Lucky” Murphy, whose alcohol-drug addiction began at age 10 and finally stopped in 2017. He now works with Oxford House.
“I most definitely want to give some thanks to the God that has worked on me, in me and through me,” he said. “There is a misconception that addicts are bad people. We’re just sick people that need to get well.”
AtTAcK addiction’s Sept. 13 meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at 21133 Sterling Ave., Suite 12, Georgetown. Meetings will continue on the second Monday of each month.
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