Testimonials, support, awareness voiced in attack on addiction

GEORGETOWN – Heartbreak, hope and the need for increased awareness and togetherness in the battle against destructive drug addiction came full circle Wednesday evening on The Circle in Georgetown.

Loved ones lost to overdose were remembered and sobering success stories were celebrated in atTAcK Addiction’s unifying public event Aug. 29 capped by a candlelight vigil.

“I had a heroin addiction for like 6 or 7 years. I am right now working on almost 6 ½ months (sober),” said 26-year-old Dylan McCabe of Laurel. “I just want to let everybody know that you can do this if you’ve got the right support.”

“I am retired state trooper,” said Georgetown Mayor Bill West. “I worked drugs for nine years. I know what the effects of drugs are on families and on individuals. By making people aware of the losses that we have had and to get people to recognize the danger involved, we can come together as one to hopefully solve this problem. The addicts can’t do it by themselves. And we can’t do it as just bystanders. It’s going to take everybody to get together as one to accomplish this.”

The mission of the vigil “is to remember those that passed away,” said Pauline Powell, co-leader for atTAcK Addiction’s Sussex County chapter.

Part of atTAcK Addiction’s overall mission “is to try and get rid of the stigma attached to addiction and people who actually have substance-use disorder. It is a disease. It should not be looked on any differently from diabetes or high blood pressure and things like that,” Ms. Powell said.

“We also would to like to raise awareness. This is in every community and we need to join together as one to fight this in order to get the help that we need, to get more options of treatment as well as to support those in recovery,” said Ms. Powell. “We also try to support families who are dealing with loves ones whether they are in active addiction, whether they have passed or whether they are looking for resources. This is a family disease. It is not an individual disease. It affects family, friends, everybody. The only way to really help is by treating everybody.”

“It is a time of remembrance. It is a time of learning. And it is a time to come together,” said Mayor West.

Caitlyn Overington, 27, of Milton, is an addict in recovery. She was one of about a dozen people who offered personal testimony.

“I struggled with opiates through high school up until about age 21. I went to detox,” said Ms. Overington, who said she then substituted opiates with hallucinogens, alcohol and pot. “I was getting blackout drunk, smoking weed. I quit drinking in December 2015 and finally stopped smoking pot – it will be 18 months Sept. 5.”

She and her family experienced heartbreak. Her cousin succumbed to a drug overdose.

“I was starting a new job. I got a text that said, ‘Call.’  I was in orientation and I didn’t want to look bad, so I ignored it,” said Ms. Overington. “I felt so bad. My mom and my sister met my aunt and they were greeted by the medical examiner and the ambulance. They got to see him dragged away in a body bag. It tears me up that I chose my job over family. I didn’t realize the full scope of it until afterwards.”

Two easel boards with photographs of those who died from drug use and overdose drew plenty of attention. Upward of 100 people attended the event.

Diane Micolucci was there to remember her 25-year-old son Dakota Price, who died Jan. 16, 2018 from an overdose. She carried a huge photo of her son.

“He died on my couch … in my home,” Ms. Micolucci said.

According to the Delaware Division of Forensic Science, 345 people in Delaware died from overdoses in 2017, up 12 percent from the 308 people who died in 2016.

In mid-August, Delaware Department of Health and Social Services issued a renewed warning following eight suspected overdose deaths statewide over a four-day span.

As of Aug. 13, the total number of deaths thus far this year from suspected overdoses reported by DFS was 167.

In 2017, Delaware paramedics and police officers administered naloxone 2,714 times in suspected overdose situations to a total of 1,906 patients.

Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes and Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin spoke on the heartbreak of the drug epidemic and law enforcement’s changing attitude. Representatives from about six other state and local police agencies attended the event.

“I can tell you that as somebody that has responded to numerous overdose calls, somebody that has administered Narcan, it affects us as first responders; the police department, the fire department and county paramedics very deeply,” said Chief McLaughlin.

“I just want to start with, I am glad you’re here, but I wish you were not,” said Chief Hughes. “I say that because we are here because of tragedy. We are here because of the epidemic that is flooding through our nation. It’s definitely in our communities and we must work together. I have a saying in the police department, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”

Chief Hughes also worked undercover in drug enforcement during his career with Delaware State Police.

“I will tell you the things that we did in the late 80s and early 90s, although we were arresting lots of people I’m not sure – I am not convinced – that we changed the course of the drug epidemic that was going on. Maybe we changed the drug of choice at the time,” said Chief Hughes. “But there is a better way and I think that way is following the medical model. Addiction is a disease and we need to stay focused on that. We need to remember that it’s people. We, in Georgetown, our police officers carry Narcan. I will tell you that at first, I was resistant to having our police officers carry Narcan because I saw that as a medical issue; I wanted the paramedics to do that …”

The ultimate decision, Chief Hughes said, came down to “talking to some folks in this group and hearing some of their stories, ‘If it’s my daughter, please do something.’”

“As Chief Hughes eluded to our attitudes have changed,” said Chief McLaughlin. “All of the agencies in Sussex County have open-door policies right now. If somebody walks in and they request help we’re getting them help … working behind the scenes to get them into treatment. We’re proud of our relationship with atTAcK Addiction. What a wonderful group.”

“The change is happening,” said Ms. Powell. “We’re not looking now to arrest people. We are looking to get them into treatment. That is one of the biggest pushes that atTAcK Addiction has.”

A 501(c)(3) non-profit, atTAcK Addiction was instrumental in passage of Delaware’s 911/Good Samaritan Law under which people who call 911 to report an overdose and the person in medical distress cannot be arrested for low-level drug crimes.

“This has helped save a lot of people,” said Ms. Powell.

In October, atTAcK Addiction is about to launch a monthly bereavement support group, featuring a certified bereavement/grief counselor with 10 years of experience. It will begin Oct. 17 in Lewes at Bethel United Methodist Church (7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.) in the church parsonage.

“We find that people who have lost loved ones to this disease, the regular grief-share-type groups, they are not adequate,” said Ms. Powell. “So, we are having something specifically for those people who have had loves ones who passed away from opioid addiction. She is going to serve a need we have not covered thus far.”

After October the bereavement support group will meet on the first Wednesday of the month at Bethel UMC, Ms. Powell said.

Among the testimonials was one by Keith Short, a 64-year-old resident of Seaford who shared his battle with addiction until his early 30s. He has ridden the sober train for more than three decades.

“This disease affected me. It was me that got himself in a lot of trouble with drugs and alcohol and different things over the years in the past,” Mr. Short said. “I’ve had a lot of testimony. I had a mother that prayed for me and prayed for me. I know between her and Jesus, that was the big reason I was able to get sober. I’ve been sober for a while. I’ve been able to stay sober for some time. I just feel blessed that I am able to be here and certainly if I had kept up the way I was, I wouldn’t’ be here right now. It’s heartbreaking to see all of these kids nowadays.”

There also was testimony calling for more resources and access to services in southern Delaware.

Help should soon be on the way, Mayor West said, with the scheduled October 2018 opening of New Jersey-based SUN Behavioral Health’s new 90-bed behavioral health hospital in Georgetown’s College Park. “That is going to be a big help to the mental cases and also to the heroin addiction,” he said.

Ms. Powell emphasized addiction “knows no boundaries – no color, no age, no race, nothing. It was what we call an equal opportunity destroyer.”

“It’s a very fine line to walk between enabling and helping. We all make mistakes at crossing that line at some point. Enabling doesn’t help. It’s a very individual family situation that you have to decide the best way to deal with this,” said Ms. Powell. “And until the person themselves are ready and open to treatment and help, it doesn’t matter what the family does. It doesn’t matter. It is the individual that has to step forward and say, ‘I really want help.’”

More information

For more information on attack addiction and the group’s events, visit the online website: http://www.attackaddiction.org/ or the group’s Facebook page.

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.