All of the photos in this slideshow were taken by Aaron Berkowitz. For a copy of any of the above photos email Editor@SheltonHerald.com.
More than 200 runners, walkers, and supporters gathered at the Shelton Riverwalk last week to honor and celebrate the lives of those who died from an overdose.
The third annual Fighting Against Drugs Everywhere (FADE) 5K timed run and walk exceeded its founder’s expectations.
Julia Markarian of Shelton created this event and organization three years ago in response to her son Stephen Medeiros dying from an overdose five years ago.
Each year, Markarian has set a goal to help the event gain recognition and once again she’s met her goal.
“We wanted 100 runners and we got almost 200,” said Markarian. “It’s amazing and I have so many people to thank for it.”
Three years ago when Markarian created the event she was nursing a relatively-fresh broken heart from losing her son. Today, she is still dealing with the heartbreak, but is also dealing with a new set of feelings as a result of her son’s death. Markarian said before the race that she was fearful of people forgetting her son should she not hold the annual event.
Following the conclusion of the 2017 run, when the Herald asked if her fear had been alleviated, Markarian said she’s at least optimistic for the future.
“We’ll see,” said Markarian while smiling at the group of participants who had just crossed the race finish line.
Couldn’t do it alone
The third annual FADE 5K race grew larger than ever, and required more helping hands for it to run as successful as it did.
Markarian said the 2017 event wouldn’t have been as successful as it was without the help from her family and other supporters of the cause.
Between the help from BHCare, her daughter in California and her youngest son, Markarian said she hopes to be able to step back from the event in the future in order to let them “take the reigns.”
Her son, Zach, said organizing the event was a lot of work, but the end result made it all worth it.
With the event originally stemming from the death of his brother, Zach said although he doesn’t talk about his own feelings much, he is happy to see so many other people come together to benefit from the community aspect that has developed with the FADE organization.
“If you didn’t come out this year, make sure you’re here next year,” said Zach.
BHcare Director of Alliance for Prevention & Wellness Pam Mautte said the two organizations are focusing on reducing the stigma that is attached to addiction. She admitted that meeting this goal will require an ongoing effort and they cannot afford to let up.
“Six years ago we tried to do a visual for International Overdose Awareness Day and we had no support,” said Mautte. “Here we are six years later with over 180 runners participating in this 5K to show their support and a number of supporters here, also supporting the cause.”
Mautte said the battle of reducing this stigma is a slow process, but the results will be worth the work. She said there are programs for parents currently in the works and there will be meetings to educate the community on the use of Narcan in the near future.
Joining a deadly fight
Drug overdose rates have skyrocketed in the United States over the last 15 years. More than 120 people die every day in the U.S. from an opioid overdose. Both prescription painkillers and heroin are contributing to this phenomenon.
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. James Gill announced that there have been 539 accidental drug overdose deaths in Connecticut over the first half of the year. The figures include 322 deaths involving fentanyl. If this rate continues, Connecticut will see a projected 1078 overdose deaths in 2017, up from the 917 deaths last year and nearly triple the 357 deaths five years ago.
Markarian said the stigma around the disease has made addressing its effects that much more difficult.
“We’ve lost a lot of children, we’ve lost a lot of people to this,” said Markarian. “I think we need to continue to reduce the stigma attached to this issue, people don’t want to talk about it or use their last names when they do, I feel like continuing these efforts and having discussions is the best way to do it.”
Mautte said she believes that getting the entire community involved, one community at a time, will make all of the difference.
“Our hope is to come together to support those people who have lost someone to the disease but also make people aware of resources that are available to help those suffering from the disease,” said Mautte.
Rachel Fulton of Shelton participated in the FADE 5K this year for the first time and her reason will bring her back for years to come.
“I’m running in honor of my friend Randy Ross who passed away from an overdose in Nov. 2014,” said Fulton. “I ran today for her and I did the best that I could Randy… I think she’d be very proud of me, I couldn’t finish the mile run in high school, so now, I’m trying my best.”
Fulton said her experience witnessing the effects of the disease have changed her view of life. After her friend’s death, Fulton began her career as a substance abuse counselor and she said it’s been a great experience trying to help people.
“It taught me that life is very short, to appreciate the good times and people that you have and mean something to you,” said Fulton. “Addiction is a horrible disease and we’re doing the best we can to try and help people, but I also believe that we can always do more.”
Mautte expressed similar sentiments as Fulton and said it’s time for everyone to step up in the fight against addiction and overdose.
“We have hundreds of thousands of people come out to support people suffering from other diseases, it’s that time that we need to see more people come out for people suffering from addiction or substance abuse.”
FADE 5k run/walk is held to raise awareness of the opioid epidemic and overdoses, acknowledge and support the grief felt by families and friends who have lost a loved one, provide hope to families who have a loved one struggling with a substance use disorder, and to provide local prevention and treatment resources.
As a part of the event’s annual growth, it featured a remembrance ceremony in which people were able to have a luminary bag that was displayed to honor their loved one. The idea came to pass as the event’s committee said they wanted to make the event “better next year” and decided to create a visual to help achieve that.
“I’ve had a lot of people thank us for doing this which makes me feel good,” said Markarian.