NORWAY — Organizers of the first-ever Western Maine Recovery Rally want people to know that there is hope for recovery for people and/or their loved ones who are battling opioid addiction.
The rally – which coincides with National Recovery Month – will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, and is hosted by the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative, formerly known as the Western Maine Addiction Task Force. There is limited parking at the church and additional parking is available off Pikes Hill behind Cafe Nomad, behind the Fare Share Co-op on Main Street, behind the Advertiser Democrat and along Main Street.
The walk will begin at the First Universalist Church of Norway at 479 Main St., travel down Main Street, take a left at the Second Congregational Church of Norway and down Main Street in Paris through Market Square, ending at Moore Park on High Street in Paris.
Oxford County Sheriff Sgt. Matt Baker, who is one of the leaders of the initiative, said the walk is “so people can pay a little more attention to our goal so people know there is hope at the end of the tunnel and that it isn’t all bad stuff.”
Baker and Taylor Owens, of Healthy Oxford Hills and the initiative, noted the opioid problem is huge in Oxford County, which is spread out geographically. That’s why the initiative partnered with Bennett Transportation of Fryeburg and RideSource of Norway to offer free shuttles to the Recovery Rally.
Pick up will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24, at Common Ground Counseling at 89 Main St. in Mexico and Fryeburg American Legion at 47 Bradley St. The shuttles will drop people off at these locations after the event.
“Since Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative is county-wide and our county is so large geographically, we wanted to make it so people from those different ends of the county could come as well,” Owens said about securing the shuttle service.
Anyone who wants a spot on the shuttle can contact Owens at email@example.com or call 739-6222.
Once the walkers arrive at Moore Park, there will be a family friendly barbecue, the first 100 participants will receive a free T-shirt, along with free silicone bracelets, live music and a panel of speakers from the recovery community.
They include Sheriff Wayne Gallant, representatives from Narcotics Anonymous and Youth People in Recovery, along with a mother who lost her daughter to addiction, who will play a recording of her daughter signing, according to Owens.
At a recent forum in Fryeburg, representatives from Young People in Recovery’s Portland chapter really got people thinking, Owens said.
“They were really great on how trying change people’s minds with words. Instead of [saying] ‘an addict,’ use ‘someone who’s in long-term recovery,'” she said.
“The whole point of this is really to reduce stigma around recovery and celebrate recovery in Oxford County,” Owens added.
Baker agreed, noting people only know bits and pieces of the addiction story, usually the negative aspects of someone overdosing and dying or getting arrested.
“There are people in recovery and this is something that can be overcome. It just takes a lot of work and a lot of dedication. The major part of recovery walk to show people there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “You don’t have to be ashamed because you have a substance abuse disorder. You should be proud of the fact that you can recover from that.”
Baker added his family wasn’t granted that opportunity when his daughter, Ronnie, died from a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose on Feb. 26, 2015.
“I, unfortunately, I didn’t have the recovery aspect … in our family to look at because my daughter never recovered but I am hoping people can,” he said.
Being part of the recovery initiative and Project SaveME are so important to him. Project SaveME was started by the initiative and modeled at the Gloucester, Massachusetts Police Deparment’s Angel program. It allows people addicted to opioids to turn in their drugs and/or paraphernalia to any police agency in the county and be paired with an “angel,” or recovery coach to help start their journey.
“That’s why it’s so important to me. Before it was something that I had to deal with at work,” Baker said. “It really changes your view on things when you’re trying to keep your child alive and you have to do the CPR process. … It just breaks my heart when I hear that people died or overdosed.”
He credits his bosses at the Sheriff’s Department with being supportive and allowing him to participate in the initiative. Baker gave them kudos for making sure their department was one of many in Oxford County where officers carry Narcan, a life-saving medicine that reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
“We’ve had two saves now so that is pretty good so we’re getting there,” Baker said. “It’s a long haul but more and more people are getting involved [with the initiative].”
If people missed the poster-making opportunities at Common Ground Counseling in Norway and Mexico this week, they can still make a poster the day of the rally or before at their home.
“We will have all of the supplies there. People just need to show up and be artsy,” Owens said. “We certainly encourage people to make their own signs if they want to march with them and bring them.”