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Aegis editorial: Powerful words

Over the past several years, as it’s been well documented here and elsewhere, Harford County has been trapped in a life and death struggle with opioid addiction.

Harford County is not unique. Much of the nation is dealing with the same tragedy.

There have been plenty of efforts to stem the tide, especially the loss of life either through drug-addled ruination or fatal overdoses.

Some jurisdictions are taking legal action against big pharmaceutical companies they believe fueled the addiction crisis by pushing powerful opioid-based painkillers in a never-ending quest to increase profits.

Other efforts have included action by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office – some steps have been taken to address the criminal elements and other steps have been taken to address the human toll – and the Harford County government among others.

Most folks agree that prevention is the best way to break the addiction scourge. And there has been a wonderfully coordinated effort by the bureaucratic side of Harford County, including the Sheriff’s Office, the county government, Harford County Public Schools and the Upper Chesapeake Health, owner of the county’s two hospitals and a major provider of health care.

We have praised not only the determination shown at every step of the fight against addiction, but also how bureaucracies with such divergent missions quickly and effectively cooperated to address so many different aspects of the epidemic.

The consensus about the significance of prevention being the key to bringing an end to this health crisis addresses the largest portion of our at-risk population – those not ensnared in the opioid crisis. That’s so important.

It does not, however, help those in the midst of crisis who are most in need of immediate help: those fighting to get clean and those desperately trying to stay sober. Not that they’ve been ignored, they haven’t. There have been major efforts to help them, but there can never be too much.

One key part of the sobriety battle, as highlighted by Erika Butler’s story in The Aegis Friday, is former addicts helping those trying to become the same.

“But one of the most important sources of aid for me was other people in long-term recovery. People who really saw me through the tough times of early recovery,” Ellen Tippett, who said she has been sober since Aug. 9, 2013, said.

Tippett and Shawn Partain, who also said she’s a recovering addict who has been sober since 2013, are peer recovery specialists who told their stories to the Harford County Council during last week’s meeting. Their talk came during what was a bi-annual report by the Harford County Health Department to the council sitting as the county’s Board of Health.

“I really didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t think I would be able to sustain sobriety,” Tippett told the council. “Five years later, the reason I’m here is because people picked up the phone calls when I was having a hard time. People who told me that I can, that I was in the same place you were and I’m sober today.”

Let those words sink in: “I was in the same place that you were and I’m sober today.”

There can be no more powerful words for people who need someone to carry them through their times of weakness in the recovery process. And there can be no one more powerful in the fight to save the lives of those who have fallen into addiction than those who also fell into it and fought their way out.

“To be a voice of hope for people has been incredibly gratifying and rewarding,” Tippett said. “I’m happy to be part of this community and happy to be part of this movement to help combat the opioid epidemic.”

Someone saving another person’s life is a feat that dwarfs all of life’s other great accomplishments. That’s what Tippett, Partain and countless other peer recovery specialists are doing. We applaud their efforts and encourage others to join them as they keep up the good fight against one of the scariest health crises of recent times.

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