‘If we can help change one person’s life, we succeeded’
It was an emotional day for the 50 or so people from all over the Valley who crossed the finish line for the second annual Fighting Against Drugs Everywhere (FADE) 5K Walk/Run along the Shelton Riverwalk on Sept. 24.
Tears and sweat fell as participants shared memories of loved ones they lost to an addiction to drugs over the years after following the completion of the 5K around Shelton and a portion of Derby.
Founder of FADE, Julia Markarian said the community aspect behind this event, which she tapped into following the loss of her son to an opioid overdose four years ago, has helped her to find comfort following this traumatic experience.
“It’s a pain like no other,” said Markarian. “I don’t know what I would do without the support I’ve gotten from Judy Connell, my family and everyone else who has shared their stories over the years.”
Connell has organized a support group called Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) which consists of support groups composed of people who are also living with the same struggle of losing a loved one to a drug overdose or addiction. She said it helps to relieve members of the support group from being or feeling alone.
“It’s easy to feel alone during that time, your way of thinking changes,” said Connell. “Some people come to our meetings and don’t talk. Some find comfort in just listening to other’s stories. But when the time comes and they’re ready to share, we’re all here. That’s the case with Julie.”
It has been 4 years since the Markarian family of Shelton tragically lost their son and brother Stephen Medeiros to a drug overdose. Stephen’s mother Julia Markarian came up with the idea of the 5K walk/run last year in memory of her son and as an effort to raise awareness for the drug addiction crisis across the country.
More than 720 opioid-related deaths were recorded in 2015 in Connecticut alone and Markarian said that increasingly high number is partially the reason for wanting to raise awareness.
“People have this stigma attached to the disease, yes being addicted to drugs is a disease, and that stigma makes people think it can’t affect their family. Well, it can,” said Markarian.
Underneath the pavilion on Shelton’s Riverwalk during the FADE 5K walk/run this year were the stories of other people who had lost loved ones from the disease. Medeiros was 29, but David Nocera was only 17 when he died back in 2007 from an overdose.
State Rep. Theresa Conroy (D-105) attended the event and said she’s been working to raise awareness over past year with Markarian. She added that medical examiners are predicting 888 deaths in 2016.
“My goal is to have addiction recognized as a medical illness,” said Conroy. ““No matter what people are saying out there, addiction is a medical illness. If I have a heart attack today the ambulance would come and pick me up and take me to Griffin where I’ll have some kind of intervention, open heart or a stent. Then I would go straight into cardiac rehab. When we have people that have substance abuse disorders, if they overdose they get a shot of Narcan, sent to the ER and then they’re dished out into the street again.”
Conroy said she recommends anyone who feels as though they’re receiving the “runaround” in their efforts to seek help, reach out to their district’s state representative.
Director of the Alliance for Prevention & Wellness,Pam Mautte took part in the run and said if there’s any medication that isn’t required by anyone in a household then it should be disposed of in a medication drop box located at one of the local police departments.
“If you know someone battling the disease don’t shame them, encourage them or point them in the direction of the help they need. There’s resources out here and recovery is possible,” said Mautte.
She added that parents should be having conversations with their children even before they notice signs or changes in their behavior.
“We need to promote prevention to avoid having people go through the recovery process,” said Mautte.
Markarian said she now has conversations with her 16 year old son to educate him on the dangers of opiates. She said through conversations she tries to let him know that she doesn’t pass judgement and whatever someone is going through you just offer support
“I talk and talk and talk. If I’m not his favorite person right now, I can live with that because I love him,” said Markarian.
President and CEO of Community Addiction Recovery and Education Support Donna DeLuca said aside from having conversations with your children, the importance of being a good role model for your kid is just as important.
“Are you drinking every night with dinner or do they constantly see you smoking?” said DeLuca. “Explaining to them that what you’re drinking is an adult drink or not drinking in front of your child can make all of the difference.”
DeLuca and FADE supporter Giovanna Pisani agreed that even with all of the good examples that are set by parents, some people still experiment with drugs. They encourage parents and families to try and be more understanding, engage in conversations and refrain from coming across as judgemental.
All of the proceeds collected will be donated to the Alliance for Prevention & Wellness to combat opioid abuse and addiction. For more information visit http://apw-ct.org/ or call (203) 736-8566.