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Recovery organizations try to increase awareness of substance use disorders

Runners wearing matching blue T-shirts run the 5K around a course that wound through Depot Park.
Yuchen Zeng
Runners wearing matching blue T-shirts run the 5K around a course that wound through Depot Park.

UF Health Florida Recovery Center and others have been working to break the stigma of addiction and show that recovery is possible. Combating the stigma was a significant purpose of a recent 5K in Gainesville.

A group of people wearing the same blue T-shirts gathered at Gainesville's Depot Park on Saturday. Some were running, while others were walking around the exhibition highlighting practical ways to recover from addiction.

“I was an alcoholic for about 35 years. I lost my house, my wife (and) my job. I lost everything. I was homeless for three years,” said Wade D., a participant of the running race. Wade D.’s full name is being withheld to protect his anonymity. Anonymity is a core tenet of his recovery program. “We are here to raise social awareness for the issue because it’s been stigmatized and shamed, and we’re trying to remove that shame and make it part of our culture to be aware of this issue and so that people know where to go to get help.”

Wade D. has been in recovery for five years.

“Recovery can happen for anybody. You just have to be willing to ask for help and to check your ego at the door. You can’t be in charge of your own recovery. You have to let somebody else help you,” he said.

“I teach kids to stay off drugs, tobacco, alcohol and other deviant behavior,” said Melody LaFlam, a coordinator at Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, a nonprofit organization that provides addiction treatment, mental health treatment and educational activities.

“We’re going to help her get off drugs and help her get her baby back,” LaFlam said about a Meridian program dedicated to assisting mothers with addictions. “She’s got her baby, (then) we’re going to help her stop drugs.”

In addition to organizations like Meridian, which offer a wide range of services, other organizations focus on youth education. Amy Patrick and LaShay Johnson are project coordinators at Alachua County Health Promotion and Wellness Coalition. Patrick said they educate and help youth by talking and working with parents. They also do speeches and presentations at schools. Patrick said some teenagers only think vapor is cool and fun but don’t think about its addictive and risk.

“We are working to work against those laws. We do understand different laws are being passed. Our goal is to reduce access and also to educate on those different consequences,” said Johnson.

Even though many states have declared marijuana legalization, Alachua County Health Promotion and Wellness Coalition is still teaching people the dangers of drugs and making people aware of substance use disorders.

Over the years, the number of deaths caused by drug overdoses in Florida has gradually increased. However, many people still lack understanding and awareness of addictions. Thus, these non-profit organizations are providing different education and services to solve this problem.

Besides a lack of knowledge about drugs and addictions, stigma is an important reason preventing people from recovering.

LaFlam said some students she taught in school were embarrassed to say they have been to Meridian, and some people experiencing addictions are likely to be accused of being wrong.

Waters said the stigma could keep people experiencing addictions from sharing their stories with others and asking agencies for help.

UF Health Florida Recovery Center and these organizations have been working for a long time to break down the stigma of substance use disorders and prove that recovery is possible. Combating the stigma is a significant purpose of Run 4 Recovery 5K.

“Doing public events, having the community involved (and) having the Gainesville Police Department and volunteers help show people who are in recovery that they can gain confidence and decrease their own shame, so I think that’s a big part of it. People still hold on to some shame and so it helps them feel good about that in confidence about being in recovery,” Waters said.

The Run 4 Recovery 5K aims to increase awareness of substance use disorders, break the stigma against addictions and celebrate people in recovery.

“We want to educate the public. We want to provide just awareness and information about substance use disorders, so I think the general population still has some misconceptions, and so we just want to provide education and get awareness out to as many people as possible,” said Rachel Waters, a director of UF Health Florida Recovery Center.

UF Health Florida Recovery Center provided every participant with a free T-shirt. “We had over 200 (people) registering. We had about 40 staff, and we have 80 other people from UF Health,” Waters said.

Run 4 Recovery 5K had vendors from local treatment providers and recovery-related exhibitors. These organizations provided self-test forms, gifts and brochures at the exhibition.