BUCKHANNON — Recovery from drug addiction isn’t some remote pipe dream — it a real possibility.
That’s the message the organizers of a new event scheduled from noon to 9 p.m. in Jawbone Park hope to deliver. The Hope and Help Assembly — HAHA, for short — is “anything but a laughing matter,” according to Buckhannon mayor David McCauley. The city and The Opportunity House, Inc. are teaming up to organize the event, which will feature all-day musical entertainment; abundant amounts of food; and speakers who will provide a variety of perspectives on addiction.
“The idea is to serve as the central bringing together of those in recovery and their support networks statewide in a common venue,” McCauley said Tuesday. “Our (Buckhannon’s) central location just makes it a logical place to bring people together from all over the state. ‘We’ in this context means every part of the state and the region. We’ve all been battling the opioid crisis together.”
But the event isn’t limited to those in recovering or suffering specifically from opioid addiction — it’s designed to reach people who are battling or have survived all kinds of drug addictions, including alcohol, McCauley said.
“We’re trying to raise the dialogue and have a discussion about improving the situation,” the mayor said. “The more people who are not recovering and the more people who aren’t supporting people in recovery, the bigger the problem is, and that’s who we’re trying to engage.”
McCauley said continuing to simply lock up addicts is not sustainable.
“We need to give second and third chances to people in recovery,” McCauley added. “We need to give them places to live and places to work because the cost of not doing so is unaffordable. It’s a new war on drugs – one that features empathy and compassion as opposed to the continuing issues of wanting to jail people. I’m not talking about wanting to go soft on major dope peddlers; that’s not what this is about.”
In an effort to attract those in the recovery community to the event, organizers have booked local musicians The Whiskey Shakes, who will begin playing at 1 p.m., followed by regional favorites, The Davisson Brothers, and DJ Tom Freeman of Acme Sound, Opportunity House executive director Matt Kerner said. In addition, several keynote speakers will take the podium, including U.S. magistrate judge Michael Aloi, who is credited with starting the first drug court in West Virginia, as well as public information speakers from a host of recovery groups like Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and Celebrate Recovery.
“We will have individuals speaking about their own journey through recovery, and family members (of recovering individuals) speaking about recovery from their perspectives,” Kerner said Tuesday. “The biggest thing is that we want to continue to work to eliminate the stigma surrounding addiction. A lot of people don’t get help because they’re scared of the stigma of being ‘addicted.’”
That stigma also detrimentally impacts the number of health care resources available to those who are addicted, Kerner said.
“There aren’t near the number of treatment beds and detox centers available because it’s a shame-based disease,” Kerner explained. “And it’s shame-based because a lot of the things that people do to support their addictions impact other people in a negative way. (The victims) don’t understand that, really, the power of choice was removed.” Kerner said cigarettes are just as addictive as many drugs, “but because you can go to 7/11 and buy them, people are not stealing from relatives to go buy a pack of cigarettes, usually.”
“The way the disease manifests itself is offensive and abhorrent to a lot of people because they don’t understand that the person’s actions are driven by their addiction, and once they’re free of that, they can be their true selves,” Kerner said.
At the outset of the event, bunches of balloons will be released to honor the more than 50,000 Americans who die of addiction each year.
McCauley estimated “hundreds” of people will attend the first HAHA event, while Kerner encouraged anyone in the recovery community to come out.
“We’re trying to bring everybody who’s recovered through all these different modalities together,” Kerner said. “While we do have a difference in how we recovered, we’re more alike than we are different. If you get clean in one program and I get clean in a different program, we don’t care how it happens as long as it happens.”
For more information, find the event on Facebook by searching for “Hope and Help Assembly.”