No longer ashamed or embarrassed that a loved one is suffering from the opioid crisis, Tamala Sappington decided to speak up – and act – to bring hope back to her community.
Along with the Women’s Outreach Ministry of her church, Ebenezer A.M.E Church of Brunswick, Sappington hosted a forum, titled “There is Hope!” as a space where people could be informed about the crisis’ local impact while also comforted by spirituality.
“Sometimes, people don’t know which way to go,” said Anne Whisonant, head of the Women’s Outreach Ministry, “...don’t know that there is a solution.”
That’s why, at the event, the church hosted a panel of a police officer, chiropractor, nurse practitioner, county official, youth recovery advocate and drug treatment center founder – to share multiple experiences and perspectives on the crisis.
Kevin Simmers, a retired Hagerstown Police officer, first thought about addiction as something to be punished and addicts as people to be locked up.
But his understanding of addiction changed when his daughter, Brooke, formed an addiction to Percocet that snowballed into an addiction to heroin, and eventually, her death.
When he opened up a treatment center, Brooke’s House, in her honor, he asked himself “would anyone support this house for women who are seeking help?”
Like Simmers, Frederick Police Department Officer Desiree Palmer also had a tough stance on addiction that has since taken a more holistic outlook.
Palmer said that, as a police officer, she used to be angry at addicts for not being able to get clean, but when she took painkillers for a surgery, she said that she finally understood why addicts had a hard time detoxing.
There was “no way,” Palmer recounted, that the painkillers could have turned her into an angry, “’getting ready to fist-fight kittens’ type of person.”
Now, with a kinder outlook, she keeps a list of resources for housing and jobs for addicts that she encounters on her beat.
But, because of the police budget, officers don’t get the proper training to interact with addicts, Palmer said.
And there are less resources for female addicts than for male, Palmer said, because 67 percent of addicts are men, so “there’s nowhere for women [addicts]” to go.
But, in general, “access to treatment” is one of the biggest obstacles to ending the crisis, Simmers said.
“It’s extremely hard to get treatment,” Simmers said. “It’s extremely easy to get heroin.”
Treatment centers turn away those without insurance or whose coverage stops, Rishidian said.
And a county-funded detox center won’t be open until the end of 2020, County Executive Jan Gardner said.
All of the panelists also emphasized those with with addictions should be treated with grace and understanding.
Like how panelist Sean Nicholson, who is a recovered addict and board member of the Phoenix Foundation of Maryland, was treated with grace by someone who he used to do drugs with and had since become clean.
According to their website, the Phoenix foundation serves “those affected by alcohol and drug addiction.”
And since becoming clean himself, Nicholson is “trying to give back what someone gave to me,” through education.
“It’s all about education,” Nicholson said. “It’s about people who understand the whole big picture.”
And, to the panelists, it’s also about how addiction is a public health issue and not as a personal fault.
Palmer didn’t beat around the bush.
“The fact of the matter is people are dying and we have to do something about it,” Palmer said.