Editorial: Address addiction together

Recognizing law enforcement officers, firefighters and first responders is nothing new, although it’s always appreciated by those who risk their lives to keep us safe every day.

What was unique about Tuesday night’s First Responders Appreciation Dinner at Martin’s Westminster, put together by the Carroll County Health Department and the Opioid Prevention Coalition, is that it brought together people who are recovering from opioid and heroin addiction, and the people who saved their lives. In addition to the 140 first responders who attended the dinner, several individuals who have overdosed, were revived and have since turned their lives around were invited to the dinner.

“We … reached out to the first responder who administrated naloxone in these cases, so they can come face to face with one another, to thank them and for the first responder to know the rest of the story,” Linda Auerback, substance abuse prevention supervisor with the Health Department and one of the event’s organizers, told us.

Police and first responders to an overdose seldom have the opportunity to interact with and find out what happens to someone after they are revived from an overdose.

The hope is that first responders hearing stories from those with addiction issues who have stopped using after being revived and now have their lives on a positive trajectory will reinforce the notion that the work they are doing is worth it. This is especially important when responders are often going to the same houses over and over, and bringing back the same people again and again — individuals Auerback referred to as “frequent fliers.”

Several of those individuals, like Jesse Tomlin, were in attendance Tuesday. Tomlin readily admits he was administered naloxone “more times than I can count on my hands” and jokingly asked during the speech for how many people in the room had given him the antidote drug. But Tomlin understands addiction is no laughing matter, and is now putting his experiences to good use by working with the nonprofit Rising Above Addiction and starting his own foundation, the Push HOPE Project.

“It’s important for me to show them that we do change our lives, and we do recover and become productive members of society,” Tomlin told us. “Just to say that we do change, you know? I have a full-time job, I’m putting on events to help other addicts get into treatment.”

But beyond the appreciation and the thank-yous, we also think getting these two groups together is a great idea to help those on the front lines better understand addiction.

While we’d like to think that county leaders, through a variety of innovative initiatives aimed at eradicating heroin and opioid addiction in Carroll County, have a better grasp on the situation than most, the truth is many who have not suffered through addiction themselves but deal with it on the streets on a daily basis may still struggle to understand the stigmas that go hand-in-hand.

Breaking down walls and getting people who have fought with and overcome their own demons to join forces with police and emergency medical responders to address addiction together, and more events like Tuesday’s dinner that do just that, are big steps in the right direction.

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