The harsh realities of drug addiction and overdose struck a deep chord with Nydia Hill in her early days working with recovering addicts.
Her first client as a peer advocate with the New Choices Recovery Center’s COTI (Centers of Treatment Innovation) Project died of an overdose in April 2018, galvanizing Hill’s choice in her line of work.
“It impacted my life on a few levels,” Hill said, “on what we’re not doing for individuals [to remove the] stigma [around addiction] ... They’re not bad people, they’re sick people.”
Hill went on to become a founding member of Friends of Recovery - Montgomery County, which Monday night at Veterans’ Park will hold its second annual Overdose Awareness Vigil as part of International Overdose Awareness Day.
The event, Hill said, is an opportunity to educate the public on the stark realities of the nation’s opioid crisis.
“Every day we lose lives around us, and [lives are] being changed due to overdose,” she said. “Overdose does not discriminate. You can be from the richest part of town, or you can be from the poorest part of town — or in between. If your individual gets caught up with opioids, there’s a close chance that they’ll be gone.”
Monday’s vigil at Veterans’ Park will run from 7 to 7:30 p.m., with both mask-wearing and social distancing mandated.
As he did at last year’s inaugural event, Father Neal Longe of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church will lead the crowd in prayer, while candles will be provided by Betz, Rossi & Bellinger Funeral Home and both signs and stickers will be provided by Sticker Mule.
“We’re looking forward to educating individuals about the stigma [of addiction],” Hill said. “It could be my family, it could be yours. It could be a neighbor, it could be a parent’s neighbor. It could be anyone, at any time, anywhere.”
“It’s great that we do this every year,” she added, “but this something that we should be doing daily.”
According to the state Department of Health’s most recent County Opioid Quarterly Report issued in January, there were nine opioid overdose deaths in Montgomery County in 2018, and two from January through June 2019.
Montgomery County launched a task force last year to combat the opioid epidemic, as between 2015 to 2017 the county had the highest opioid prescription rate in the state, according to the Department of Health.
Combating the negative stigma of addiction is one key step to addressing the problem, Hill said, as is increasing the availability of and training for the use of Narcan (naxolone), the nasal spray that can be used to treat decreased breathing during an opioid overdose.
“We should be teaching more of our community members about Narcan,” Hill said. “We should be dispensing Narcan at Stewart’s, Walmart, all the places that individuals go into bathrooms and inject heroin, fentanyl or both.
“We’ve got to wrap our heads around prevention, we’ve got to wrap our heads around Narcan training. We’ve got to wrap our heads around that it [an overdose] can happen. It’s that simple. There’s no real big speech that can happen. Until it happens to someone you love, you won’t know the feeling.”
It’s a feeling that struck Hill when she saw her first client's mother following his death, and one that has motivated her ever since.
“We’ve got to keep at it,” Hill said. “We can’t stop.
“We can’t stop.
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.