One Shelton mother said the pain of losing a child to opioid use disorder is a feeling that only people who have been through it can understand, but it is a potential reality that everyone should be aware of.
Julia Markarian of Shelton tragically lost her son, Stephen Medeiros, to a drug overdose five years ago.
“It’s one of those things that you won’t understand until reality hits you and we don’t want it to hit you, but we want you to understand. That’s our dilemma,” said Markarian.
Over the last five years, Markarian said she has spent a large portion of her time soul searching for a way to move past the tragedy, while still managing to keep her son’s memory alive.
Three years ago she created the nonprofit organization called “Fighting Against Drugs Everywhere” or F.A.D.E., which organizes an annual 5K Walk/Run to raise awareness for the disorder and the potential harm it can do to an individual/family.
On Thursday, Aug. 31 at 6 p.m., the organization will make its way back to the Shelton Riverwalk where participants will walk or run just over three miles around Shelton and a portion of Derby to commemorate the lives of those who died from or overcame addiction.
Markarian said they chose Aug. 31 because it is also International Drug Awareness day.
“We thought that it would be a really great day to do this and would coincide with our message,” said Julia Markarian.
The early registration is a $25, plus an additional $2.50 sign-up fee. Participants that sign up before Aug. 15 will receive a free T-shirt. Anyone under the age of 18 will be charged a $15 registration fee plus the additional $2.50 sign-up fee.
After Aug. 15, the fees are the same except no T-shirt will be given. Day of registration is $30 for all ages (cash/check only) with no T-shirt. Visit https://runsignup.com/Race/CT/Shelton/FightingAgainstDrugsEverywhere5KWalkRun2016 to register for the event.
Markarian said the proceeds collected will be donated to prevention programs for the Valley community.
One of the places where donations will be given to is BHCare, a provider of addiction and mental health services for the following towns: Shelton, Ansonia, Derby, Oxford, and Seymour.
Director of Alliance for Prevention and Wellness at BHCare Pam Mautte said prevention is a critical component of combatting the opioid epidemic and she will be participating in the 5K for a second year in a row.
“A life lost to addiction is one too many,” said Mautte. “In this past year in 2016 we lost 46 residents in the Valley towns. In the last five years we’ve lost 110 residents.”
Mautte said she hopes that the event will help to erase the stigmas around addiction.
“Addiction is a brain disease and is not something to be shameful of,” said Mautte. “It doesn’t have any barriers. It affects families of all backgrounds and I think it’s important that we as a community show our support for those going through it and help provide them with hope as well as healing.”
Challenges of raising awareness
Markarian explained that making people aware of the ongoing epidemic has proven to be a bigger challenge than she could have ever anticipated.
“The most important thing is making sure that no one forgets your son or child,” said Markarian.
Markarian said her first two experiences with organizing the event was difficult, but rewarding.
Now in its third year, Markarian said the process of organizing the event is draining as it forces her to relive the tragic experience of losing her eldest son. Luckily for Markarian, this year she said she’s been able to take a step back as she’s received some extra help.
“This year my daughter and her best friend took the reigns,” said Markarian. “It’s wonderful. To me, my 15-year-old might be too young to get involved in this, but I hope they continue this. I hope I can continue to take a couple of steps back, but still be involved. I just want to let them initiate it. They’re young and have more energy so that’s my goal.”
Markarian’s daughter, Stephanie Medeiros McAlister, joined the cause in order to help out with the more technical side of the operation. She said living in California has limited her to only what she can contribute via her laptop, but she will continue to make sure the event touches people’s hearts that have their personal connection to the cause.
“I think that this is one of the most courageous things that she’s ever done,” said McAlister. “I find it amazing that she has the strength to put something like this together and devotes so much of her time.”
Markarian said she, like many other parents who have lost their children to addiction, doesn’t want people to forget about her son.
McAlister said she won’t let that happen.
“This is not only for my brother, there are many people who walk or run for a loved one that they lost,” said McAlister. “This is for everyone who wants to keep their loved one’s memory alive. This event has grown each year and will continue to grow.”
The organization are accepting donations of all kinds. Markarian clarified that donations do not have to be monetary.
“Every little bit counts. Juice, water, or granola bars go a long way,” said Markarian.
For information about the 5K Run/Walk contact the race director at firstname.lastname@example.org. To stay up-to-date with F.A.D.E.’s events, visit their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/fightingagainstdrugseverywhere/.