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Eastwood rally puts focus on overdose awareness

By SEAN BARRON

Correspondent

NILES — Even though no traumatic event changed the course of her life, Carol Henderson found herself addicted to opioids before taking a path that has led to decades of recovery.

“I started young with life’s issues,” Henderson, of Cortland, remembered. “I tried drinking, but alcohol hurt my stomach.”

Soon after moving to Detroit, someone introduced her to “bigger and better things,” meaning opioids, which led to about 25 years of use, Henderson explained.

Nevertheless, it could be argued that one of Henderson’s most recent bigger and better things was taking part in Saturday’s ninth annual Rally for Recovery event at Eastwood Field.

Sponsoring the three-hour celebratory gathering, aimed at raising awareness about substance abuse recovery, was the Alliance for Substance Abuse Prevention, a project of the Trumbull County Mental Health and Recovery Board.

ASAP has formed strategic partnerships to work toward solving the area’s substance abuse problems and ensuring future generations are not impacted. The organization is a coalition of mental health professionals, parents, educators, first responders, students, people in recovery and others.

For a while, Henderson was “throwing bricks at the warden’s window,” meaning she came close several times to being jailed for her addiction. The combination of church influences, the youngest of her four children and finding a sponsor for a 12-step program, however, were incentives for Henderson to get her life back on track, she recalled.

“I said, ‘You know what? I need to stop.’ I said, ‘She deserves a mother who’s not using.'”

Henderson is now a longtime drug and alcohol counselor who also earned a master’s degree from Youngstown State University in Christian counseling.

Lauren Thorpe, ASAP’s project’s director, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the number of opioid overdoses and decreased the number of those seeking treatment in the region. Two contributors were more people being isolated from one another and many treatment facilities being closed, she explained.

“Recovery is not easy; it’s hard,” which makes celebrating success stories more necessary and valuable, Thorpe said.

Nearly 40 vendors participated in the Rally for Recovery and provided a variety of information and resources regarding treatment options for addictions, depression, physical, sexual and emotional abuse and mental health challenges; counseling for those struggling with post-partum depression and birth trauma; the dangers of e-cigarettes and vaping; suicide prevention; and 12-step programs.

Garrett Hart, creator and program director of Rock and Recovery Radio, noted the radio and online program tries to serve as a resource for those coping with trauma, mental illness and who are in recovery. It also reaches out to their families, friends and loved ones, he said.

The broadcasts, which debuted in late 2011, feature interviews with those in and past recovery, among others, and offer music as well as positive messages. They can be heard locally from 10 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday on WKTL-FM 90.7, or by visiting www.rockandrecovery.com.

“The messages remind people they’re not alone,” he added.

Nicole Wesley, founder and president of Howland-based Nikki’s House Recovery, noted that the 4-year-old nonprofit organization provides structure and stability to women impacted by addiction and recently out of treatment.

It also is aligned with the Northeast Ohio Community Alternative Program in Warren that seeks to reduce criminal behavior, reduce recidivism rates and enhance public safety.

Wesley stressed that mental illness is closely linked to physical illness, largely because “chemicals drive how your body functions.”

“People with addictions are not bad people trying to be good people; they’re sick and trying to become well,” she said. “An addiction is not a moral failing. It truly is an illness.”

Wesley echoed Thorpe, saying that opioid addictions and deaths have increased during the pandemic mainly because of prolonged isolation and many clients being unable to see their therapists, which caused some to self-medicate. For others, receiving government stimulus checks has contributed, because that has temporarily softened their financial hardship and incentive to seek help, Wesley added.

She also cautioned against automatically assuming those who received government assistance used it to feed their addictions. Instead, they needed the funds for food and other essentials like anyone else who was eligible, Wesley explained.

The gathering also featured an addiction memorial in which the names of those who lost their battle with addictions were read aloud and honored. A recovery walk also took place.

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