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Recovering addicts, community members speak out about state's drug epidemic during public meeting

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​Matt Meyer transition team's Heroin and Opiate Addiction Public Committee Meeting. Photo credit: Lauren Huet

Mary June has been sober for 11 years and shared her experience. June is a Board Member and Recovery Advocate for Hope Street.

“This epidemic is killing my family and we’re running out of options for our kids. I just had to speak up today and say we need to help them,” said June

She was part of a group of recovering addicts, advocates, family members of addicts, and community members who spoke at the Heroin and Opiate Addiction Public Committee Meeting Tuesday morning, during an initiative led by incoming New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer’s transition team.

June has seen addiction hurt her family, including her nephew.

“In 2014, his only option was to lay on the train tracks and kill himself," said June. "Since then, I have a niece that went through the atTAcK addiction house and is doing great. She celebrated 90 days. A nephew who celebrated 7 months at the Connections halfway house. My daughter is meeting her heroin dealer every chance she gets.”

Tyler Szymanski is 10 months sober.

“I’m constantly reminded that I was an addict,” Szymanski said at the meeting. “I’ve been saying it from day one, I don’t want to be considered an addict anymore, or a recovering addict. I want to be me, an individual who beat this and is no longer an addict but is a success story.”

Szymanski said for him recovery was the easy part.

“It’s not just the recovery part it’s after. I’ve done almost every program there is to do in Delaware and they’ve all saved my life with the recovery part, with me being an addict, but not one of them programs has helped me know what to do with my life after,” said Szymanski.

“He is now living in Maryland with his girlfriend and the amount of duties that they have given him to do with no driver’s license,” said Szymanski’s cousin Angela Lloyd. “His father is in prison. His mother has passed away. It’s overwhelming for an addict to be able to do all these things.”

Lloyd said the system sets up recovering addicts to fail.

 “Get a 40 hour a week job, plus go to treatment, plus go to probation, plus go to get his GED. All of this and speaking with him this morning, he was just a nervous wreck to go into probation today, because he doesn’t know where to even begin.”

She said she would take her cousin to his probation meeting that day.

“Speaking with him this morning he was just a nervous wreck to go into probation today, because he doesn’t know where to even begin,” said Lloyd. “He said, I just want to be open and honest with them and tell them the truth.”

Szymanski said he wishes someone would sit down with him and tell him the steps he needs to take after recovery. He moved to Maryland, with court approval, to get away.

“Dropped everything and left my family and everything to get away, and it just seems like the system is sucking me back in," said Szymanski. "It’s not fair to a person like me who has been trying his damnedest to be normal.”

Different groups and organizations work together to help recovering addicts is what Lloyd would like to see.

“Try and bring together everybody to one place for these people so they’re not bouncing around,” said Lloyd. “They don’t have the transportation to get there. They don’t have the financial means to get on the bus. Their brains don’t work like normal peoples’ brains, they have a disease. That to them is just so overwhelming. It’s unfair. They’re being set up for failure.”

Lloyd is a board member and vice chairwoman for Hope Street.

“The other thing is just the lack of treatment,” said Lloyd. “I’ve had 2 very close friends of mine pass away this week, and 4 people that I know of that have passed away. And as an advocate and trying to get people into treatment it’s been hard. I’ve had mothers crying to me on the phone if they don’t have insurance at all.”

Kirk Sewell is a recovering addict who was sober for 16 years, but recently suffered a back injury.

“Opiates and what the doctor gives you just brought everything back to remembrance for me, so I went out and used again and put my wife and my kids through hell for 8 months,” said Sewell.

He said he came to the meeting for Delaware’s young people and used to work at Ferris School for Boys.

“A lot of times we forget about the urban areas and the affect that drug addictions have on kids’ lives. A lot of time we take a backseat to that and just lock them up and send them to jail,” said Sewell.

“If we don’t get them while they’re young it’s hard to get them as an adult,” said Sewell. “So for me my concern is how important are the youth as far as recovery is concerned?”

Kelly Jones shared her family’s experience.

“My sister, brother, and I have both been raised private school, college educated, I own my own company. So we have a very strong family unit,” said Jones. “Unfortunately my sister overdosed February 1st. She was dead for 4 minutes and my mother, being a nurse, was able to- they had to break down the bathroom door. My mother and my brother pulled her out of the bathroom and were able to revive her as the officer was coming in the door with Narcan.”

She hopes to see families work together to save lives.

“There are some simple solutions and volunteer opportunities out there that we can bring into these facilities to really give people help hands-on from the ground floor and allow them to get out and transition into something more than they’ve become,” said Jones.

All of the public’s feedback will help the transition team make a plan.

”So, this is an urgent problem that demands our attention,” said the Chair of the Matt Meyer Transition Committee on Heroin and Opiate Addiction Tammy Anderson. “We are ecstatic that Mr. Meyer has made this a core issue for his administration and our job is to advise him on a plan to move forward to address that problem.”

A problem that’s costing lives, and the clock is ticking.

“We unfortunately rank among the top in the states with respect to various indicators of our problem, overdose deaths, overdoses in general, high prescribing rates,” said Anderson. “We are not the worst state, but we are a state, like many others in the United States, that has a serious problem and it needs to be addressed.”

To find out when the next public meeting is or to submit any input, visit the transition team's website.


Article by Lauren Huet and originally posted on WDEL.com.

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