Several community groups gathered on Willow Spring Road this Tuesday to spread a message of love to those affected by overdoses, and to spread awareness to the area.
“Our goal is to get the awareness out there about overdoses, about the epidemic that it is,” Nancy Myers, the program director for One Voice/On Our Own of Dundalk, said on Tuesday morning in the group’s headquarters as they were preparing for National Overdose Awareness day, held throughout the country on Aug. 31.
Myers said there were about 83,000 overdoses in the nation last year.
The mental health and addiction help center recently moved to 299 Willow Spring Road this summer, and aims to get clients whatever help they need.
“Our main goal is to give them the message of recovery,” Myers said, and then when somebody is ready, they’ll help them get into treatment. “We’ll go to any length to get somebody into treatment,” she said.
The group focuses on peer recovery, meaning that most of the people involved have had their own experience with drugs.
“We are people with a lived experience, which means we have used drugs or alcohol in the past, and we can relate to the people we can serve,” Myers said.
The pandemic has nearly tripled the amount of calls the organization gets, Diana Anthony, a recovery specialist with One Voice, said, as social isolation has contributed to mental health issues, and stimulus money has fed into addictive behaviors in people who are addicted.
“When you’re in that state of mind, I’m not being factitious, that’s what you do,” Anthony said.
Also throwing fuel on the fire of addiction was the closure of addiction treatment centers and resource groups due to COVID-19 last year, Anthony and Myers said, as people felt helpless. Fentanyl, the extremely powerful opioid which can cause overdoses in low amounts, is also contributing to the problem.
“The fentanyl is hitting this community really, really hard,” Myers said.
The fentanyl epidemic is also extremely personal to Myers, whose 35-year-old son died earlier this year of an overdose.
“He left treatment, and within nine days of coming back to Baltimore, he was found dead,” Myers said. “People always think that the drugs are in the city, his body was found in Perry Hall, Baltimore County.”
“Even if you work with it day in and day out, it hits home,” she said. A coworker at One Voice/On Our Own was also recently lost to an overdose. Three longtime members also died just recently. Each time, it hits hard.
“This time last year... if you were to ask me, I would have said ‘no’. Because you... go into denial because its a person you love,” she said.
Bob Paff, a local talk radio host, author and motivational speaker, came to share his story later that day. Paff lost his son, Zach, to an overdose in January of 2019, and said he was disappointed by a lack of government response to drugs pouring into the country.
Paff has started a scholarship at Calvert Hall in honor of his son, and other family has started the Zachary T. Paff Foundation.
“I really try to find, every day, the blessing in my son’s death,” Paff said. “Zach and I have gotten closer in his death, and that, I see as a blessing.”
“My son’s gone, he’s not coming back, but I’m gonna honor the s--t out of him,” he said.
Outside the building, groups lined the sidewalk with tables offering addiction resources and referrals, naloxone training and PrEP information, and a “memory wall” of people lost to overdoses.
Also present was Pastor Ray Poellet, who runs the “Church Without Walls” in Rosedale, which actively seeks members who are homeless for fellowship. The church meets in a field behind the Wawa at the intersection of Pulaski Highway and Rossville Boulevard.
“Our first goal is to lead them to Christ. Our second goal is, if they’re on a methadone program, to get them going to a rehab program and get them out of the woods,” Poellet said. He mentioned that he recently found out two members who were “drug addicts in the woods” two years ago just closed on a house on Tuesday.
“That’s what we live for,” he said.