December 11, 2017
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  • During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
  • During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    During International Overdose Awareness Day at Arundel Christian Church on August 31, attendees huddled for a candlelight vigil in remembrance of their loved ones.
  • Mandy Larkins of Anne Arundel Medical Center’s Pathways and Serenity Sistas’ founder Angel Traynor were among the guest speakers at International Overdose Awareness Day.
    Photos by Andrew Candella
    Mandy Larkins of Anne Arundel Medical Center’s Pathways and Serenity Sistas’ founder Angel Traynor were among the guest speakers at International Overdose Awareness Day.

“If You’re Alive Today, There’s Hope”

Zach Sparks
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September 20, 2017

Pasadena Residents On The Importance Of Overdose Awareness Day

Kristin Edwards was addicted to heroin for seven years, but the addiction didn’t just steal her freedom.

“My mom didn’t die from overdose, she died from cardiac arrest,” said Edwards, who lost her mom three years ago, “but it is just as good as overdose, because it’s the drugs that gave her cardiac arrest.”

Chris Pedersen recalled a prolonged battle, from getting hooked on prescription drugs and then heroin for 13 years altogether. “It took a long time to get addicted to heroin, but it progressed slowly,” he said.

Yet, along with 800 other people who gathered at Arundel Christian Church in Glen Burnie for Recovery Anne Arundel’s second annual International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31, Edwards and Pedersen weren’t afraid to share their struggles.

“The power in that event is amazing. Overdose Awareness Day, Recovery Walk and Hoops for Hope are all doing great things to reduce the stigma,” said Pedersen, who now serves as director of operations at Evolve Life Centers in Pasadena. “With this event and all of the other events, we want to get active users to stop thinking that recovery is a death sentence.”

During the event, attendees remembered lives lost to addiction while celebrating the strides made by people in recovery. The local version of International Overdose Awareness Day included a candlelight vigil, a slideshow of remembrance, new music from classically trained vocalist Elio Scaccio, guest speakers like Chrysalis House Executive Director Chris McCabe and widow Jen Tippett, and an invitation for people to seek help.

“We celebrate lives and mourn the losses, and unless you’re callous or cold, it affects you,” Pedersen said. “Now, we’re not talking about the ‘junkies’ on the corner, but we’re talking about our families and the people we love.”

Speakers talked of the 729 Anne Arundel County opioid overdoes from January 1 to August 30, 94 of which were fatal. Carol Boyer, the event director and community relations director for Maryland House Detox, said that in 2016, there were 340 Overdose Awareness Day events globally, with 216 in the U.S. and five in Maryland. In 2017, 480 were held globally, with 317 in U.S. and 12 in Maryland.

“It has been reported that Anne Arundel County had the largest event in 2016 for the United States,” Boyer said at the 2017 vigil. “Certainly this not only represents our county’s need, but it also and more importantly is a testament to our community’s commitment to reducing the stigma of addiction and ending overdose once and for all.”

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Showing the broad range of people affected by the epidemic, 8-year-old Callie Ewing of Pasadena came onstage, and with her family behind her, she detailed how her father’s addiction caused him to miss her first day of preschool and her Christmas recital, and get kicked out of the house.

“I went to my dad’s one weekend and I came back,” she told the crowd. “I told my mom I learned to count by 10s. I was so proud and my mom asked me how I learned. There was a syringe in my bathtub toys, and I didn’t know why that was bad, why my mom started to cry, or why I had to go to the doctor’s.”

Thankfully for Callie and her family, the story didn’t end there. Her father sought help and got clean.

“I wanted to share my story so you know we get hurt too and we need our parents,” she said to the audience. “There’s a lot of sad times I didn’t share, but it doesn’t matter because I have happy memories now. Please let your kids give you a second chance too.”

At Evolve Life Centers, Pedersen, Edwards (who is an outreach coordinator) and associate director Sara Burden oversee five facilities that have helped 267 people get into recovery housing.

None of them thought they would ever be helping people through recovery, especially Burden, who had traumatizing experiences with people using drugs.

“I adopted a daughter whose mother is a heroin addict,” she said, adding that she was once robbed by another person on drugs while her daughter was in the car. “I would have helped anyone who was a victim of domestic violence or other situation, but if you would have told me seven years ago I’d be helping recovering addicts, I wouldn’t believe it.”

Now she spends her time showing people that a life without drugs doesn’t have to be boring. “We make sure they get a taste of the activities without drugs or alcohol,” Burden said, naming white-water rafting and trips to Ocean City as things they have done.

As advocates of sober living, the team at Evolve Life Centers champions drug court and rehab over jail. “Yes, some people need jail, but we also have to recognize, ‘OK, this guy didn’t steal because he’s a bad person,’” said Pedersen. “‘He stole because he has this disease.’”

Once they overcome their addiction, he said, most of them volunteer in the community. “Their whole moral compass pretty much gets reset,” he added of people seeking help. “The best people I know are in recovery.”

Also in attendance at Overdose Awareness Day was State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who lost a brother-in-law earlier this year. After being 99 days sober, Nick Hileman purchased Fentanyl, immediately after attending a narcotics anonymous meeting, and died.

Since then, the war against addiction has taken on a personal significance for Adams. He is thrilled to partner with the Anne Arundel County and Annapolis City fire and police departments, Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency and the Department of Health to start the Safe Stations program.

Since April 20, as many as 150 people have gone to local fire stations to get help with their opioid addiction. During August, an average of two people per day asked for assistance.

“If you’re alive today, there’s hope,” Adams said. “There are people all around that want to give you the tools to survive.”

Reflecting on her journey and Overdose Awareness Day, that’s exactly the way Edwards feels now that she’s on the opposite end of that advice.

“It gives us a purpose,” she said of volunteering. “For me, I couldn’t find my place. I did not know what I was doing in this world. … The other day, I was listening to the radio and a song by Matchbox Twenty came on, talking about how ‘nobody wants to be me.’ … Now, I’m totally OK with being me.”


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