Addiction awareness event puts emphasis on treatment efforts and hope

People inside Polytech High School’s gymnasium listen at atTAcK addiction’s Destination Awareness Day to the words of Don Keister, of Bear, who lost his 24-year-old son Tyler to a heroin overdose. (Delaware State Housing Authority photo)

People inside Polytech High School’s gymnasium listen at atTAcK addiction’s Destination Awareness Day to the words of Don Keister, of Bear, who lost his 24-year-old son Tyler to a heroin overdose. (Delaware State News/Matt Bittle)

WOODSIDE — Addiction is a disease.

It stretches across racial and societal lines, directly impacting millions of Americans and leaving many more dealing with a family member fighting an illness.

That was the theme Saturday at the first awareness event hosted by the Kent County chapter of atTAcK Addiction.

Formed in 2013 by grieving family members of a young man who died of an overdose, atTAcK Addiction is dedicated to shining a light on drugs and alcohol and pushing for increased treatment efforts.

The group, named after Tyler Armstrong Keister, now has chapters in all three counties.

Approximately 45 volunteers, health professionals and interested persons came to Polytech High School for the event Saturday. Tables from counseling services, addiction centers and hospitals displayed brochures and cards.

Diagrams about how drugs impact a user’s body sat in the hallway next to one table, and three large banners, each listing dozens of names and photos of individuals killed by drugs, hung from poles.

After hearing from several speakers, including experts and individuals personally impacted by addiction, attendees had the chance to receive special training for administering the anti-heroin drug Naloxone.

They also heard what legal steps to take if a family member is arrested and learned about prescription drugs.

The seminar was organized in large part by Margie Pruett, head of the Kent County group. Formed in November, the chapter has been supported by Levy Court and other organizations and agencies. It meets the third Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. at Levy Court.

Ms. Pruett, whose grandson is in recovery, said she hopes to spread the word and provide resources to anyone in need.

According to the state, 185 Delawareans died from suspected drug overdoses last year. Nationally, Closing the Addiction Treatment Gap reported in 2010 an estimated 23.5 million Americans were addicted to drugs or alcohol, but only 2.6 million received treatment.

The first step to fixing that problem, speakers said Saturday, is ending the stigma. Levy Court Commissioner Eric Buckson shared his story of having both a father and sister who battled addiction. He said it can impact anyone and, for an addict, the struggle never truly ends.

“Every single day when I finish the fight, it’s just another day,” he said.

Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, called addiction the “equal opportunity destroyer,” while treatment expert

Michael Barbieri stressed the illness costs the country in many ways.

“People do believe this is a self-inflicted illness — if people had a stronger will it would not occur,” said Mr. Barbieri, the director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. “That’s so far from the truth. That’s almost in a prehistoric time to think that way. But that’s still how people think.”

Attendees applauded the news that a treatment clinic in Harrington is being funded by the state. Operated by Connections Community Support Programs Inc., the facility will open by the end of the month and will be able to serve between 58 and 128 people at one time.

AtTAcK Addiction has promoted successful legislation enabling authorities to carry Naloxone and giving legal protection to individuals who contact emergency personnel for someone who has overdosed.

Mr. Barbieri praised the group for its efforts in “trying to do the right thing.”

Gathered in the gym, volunteers and visitors listened to atTAcK Addiction founder Don Keister. Mr. Keister shared his son’s years-long struggle with prescription drugs and heroin, a fight that included multiple visits to detox centers, several relapses and one fatal overdose.

Emotions could be seen on the faces of several in the room, strengthening Mr. Keister’s message that drug and alcohol addiction touches almost everyone.

The state has increased its commitment to treatment, speakers said, and while many more obstacles remain, organizers and experts stressed there is reason to be optimistic.

“If you don’t get anything else out of today, I want you to walk away knowing that there’s hope,” Ms. Pruett said.

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