Substance Abuse Coalition meets at park for International Overdose Awareness Day

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera, left, speaks with Graham County Supervisor Paul David at the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition’s event at Thatcher Park on Thursday.

By Jon Johnson

THATCHER – Drug and alcohol abuse doesn’t just affect the user. The ramifications of those caught in the grips of substances have a domino reaction that encompasses many others including family members and friends.

On Thursday, the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition hosted an event at Thatcher Park in recognition of International Overdose Awareness Day, which is Wednesday.

A number of local government leaders were on hand for the event, along with Coalition members, those with recovery organizations, and those whose lives have been changed by addiction in one facet or another.

Coalition member John Howard read a proclamation making September National Recovery Month in Graham County. The proclamation called upon residents of the county to observe the month with appropriate programs and activities to support the month’s theme to join the voices of recovery by investing in health, home, purpose, and community. Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera and outgoing Thatcher Councilor Ken Larson were joined by Graham County Supervisor Paul David in signing the proclamation.

After uplifting and inspiring songs by Eastern Arizona College student Ashley Clement, guest speakers Coralee Allen – a counselor at Awakening Recovery Center – and Awakening Executive Director Jason Hutchings gave poignant talks about the grave issue regarding overdose deaths and overcoming the stigma of drug addiction.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: From left, Thatcher Mayor Bob Rivera, Thatcher Councilor Ken Larson and Graham County Supervisor Paul David sign a proclamation stating September as National Recovery Month in Graham County.

Allen informed those gathered of the number of overdoses reported in Arizona and said that in Graham County alone there have been 22 opioid overdoses so far this year. While Allen’s numbers were as of last Friday, they were already outdated as a woman suffered a heroin overdose Saturday, increasing the number to 23. The woman was given a dose of Naran – the opioid antagonist – and began to breathe again. She was then transported to the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center and responded well to treatment. Arizona now has a Good Samaritan Law that protects victims and others who call for assistance during an overdose. Click here to read an article on that law.

Hutchings told the crowd that he had never met a “bad” person in his many years helping people with their addictions and that the stigma of the bad drug user is detrimental to recovery.

“Going to someone’s funeral because of this disease is a difficult thing,” Hutchings said.

“Through my years of counseling, I have never worked with a bad person, ever. They’ve done some bad things but I’ve never actually worked with a bad person. These are people (who) when they are clean are moral are spiritual are loving are caring are honest are trustworthy, have passion, excitement, love, (and) care. These are amazing, amazing individuals.”     

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Awakening Recovery Center Executive Director Jason Hutchings addresses those in attendance.

Coalition member Jan Napier – who lost a son to a drug overdose – encouraged the community to have a dose of Narcan – which is available as a nasal spray – on hand in every household. She also invited the community to a Narcan training event at Thatcher Town Hall on Sept. 13 starting at 4 p.m. The event will have doses of Narcan available and will show how to properly administer it.

Narcan is the only needle-free formulation of naloxone approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“The more Narcan that’s out there, the less likely we are to lose somebody,” Napier said. “And if we can keep them alive, we may get them into recovery and save their life.”

Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition Director Kathy Grimes asked the community to help spread the information regarding Narcan and how it helps save lives. She also put forth a call for people to be proactive regarding battling drug use. 

“Help us educate the community – our young people – about the risks of using drugs to start with,” Grimes said. “And parents, give them the tools they need to talk to their kids.”

Coincidentally, on Tuesday, Emergent BioSolutions Inc. entered into an agreement to purchase Narcan’s maker, Adapt Pharma, for $735 million.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Graham County Supervisor Paul David, right, helps others attempt to light off a Chinese lantern.

To conclude the event, the plan was to release numerous Chinese lanterns into the air. Weather conditions, including high winds and warm air, thwarted the release, but two lanterns did have short flights.

For more information on the Graham County Substance Abuse Coalition, visit its website here or its Facebook page here. The coalition is currently running a fundraiser to help pay for a sober living facility.