Phillip Roberson’s shirt put it simply: “Heroin sucks.”
Roberson said he used to be a heroin addict and has been in recovery for a few years. He got his shirt Saturday morning at the Run for Recovery and wore it later in the day to the Rally for Recovery in Baker Park, where he was standing listening to The Mulligans perform in the bandshell after Margaret Nusbaum, with the County Executive’s Office, finished reading a recovery proclamation.
Nusbaum read that 43.6 million Americans had a mental illness in the past year and 21 million people age 12 or older were classified with a substance abuse disorder in 2014.
Roberson, a Frederick resident, said addiction affects everybody; and everyone likely knows someone who has an addiction. The fifth annual event Saturday was a way to combine recovery with the community to let people know Frederick County is doing what it can to help, he said.
“It’s been getting bad out there,” he said. “People need to know there’s a solution.”
His recovery wouldn’t have been possible without the services Frederick County has in place, he said, as he looked toward the tents and resource tables set up beyond the bandshell, such as Gale Recovery, which runs a halfway house he stayed in for six months.
What it came down to though for Roberson was “just being sick and tired of living the life I was,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to know it’s a disease, it’s not always a choice. The stigma has to turn from ‘drug addicts are bad people’ to ‘they’re sick people who need help.’”
Carlton Hill talked to a group of about a dozen people sitting in the bandshell as others walked through resource tables nearby about his journey to becoming a peer recovery specialist for the Frederick County Health Department. He came to Washington, D.C., as a football player, but he had a drug problem, he said. But he also had a wife, kids and a home. Then he started abusing cocaine.
“My life became a downward spiral,” he said.
He said he lost his family, became homeless and was shot once. He remembered on one occasion hiding behind a tree so his children wouldn’t see him on Christmas Day as he watched them play with their toys in the parking lot.
“I lost all that was important to me,” he said.
Then he met a guy who took him to the Frederick Rescue Mission in Frederick, a city he said he had never heard of before, but knew had a Greyhound stop. After getting sober and graduating from the Rescue Mission, he went to Frederick Community College. Then his son was killed in the streets, he said. At the same time, his daughter went into relapse.
But he maintained his sobriety and got a job with the Frederick County Health Department. He was its first peer recovery specialist and is also a certified addiction counselor.
In his time stationed as a peer recovery specialist at Frederick Memorial Hospital, he said he’s learned how dependent the hospital is on the experienced specialists because doctors often don’t have expertise in addiction.
He said he relates to the addicts that are referred to him by the doctors and goes over options with them for recovery. He checks in on them until they are doing well. Hill said he makes 10 to 15 calls a week checking in on people.
One of the problems he sees is that “Because heroin is getting all the headlines, alcohol addiction is going under the radar,” he said. And alcohol addiction is widespread.
During the rally, Sarah Drennan with the Frederick County Health Department talked about Narcan, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioid medication. Throughout the event, people were trained to use the nasal spray and were able to keep one for a first aid kit. The Health Department does free training on how to use it the second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. and every Friday at 1 p.m. at 300 B. Scholls Lane.
This year, there have been 26 Narcan saves by the Frederick Police Department compared with 21 saves all of last year, said Lt. Dennis Dudley.
Roberson now volunteers with the Up & Out Foundation, which has a mission to provide assistance to those struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism.
“It’s all about helping the next guy,” he said. “If I just got better and said, ‘screw everybody else,’ that’s not how it works.”