For those of you who follow relink.org on Facebook, you know that over the past several weeks we have had the privilege of participating in Recovery Outreach efforts in multiple counties across Northeast Ohio. Spearheaded by Project Worth Saving, Homeless Hookup CLE, and Harm Reduction Ohio and with contribution from many local organizations, these efforts provide food, clothes, Narcan and harm reduction supplies, hygiene products, and support to in-need communities.
As we start to see the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, those of us in the mental health and addiction recovery field know that we are on the cusp of a serious surge in mental health and addiction concerns. Throughout the COVID-19 lock down, relink.org reported the heavy impacts of this crisis on the existing addiction epidemic. Just last week, Cuyahoga County reported a historic spike in overdose death rates for May that went beyond that of the highest month in 2017, which is often looked at as the height of the opioid epidemic.
“We need to stop waiting for people to come to us when they’re ready, we need to go to them”-Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser shared the above sentiment one day on our way back from an outreach event in Youngstown. Ashley is a person in recovery herself and has dedicated her life to helping others struggling with addiction. Professionally, she wears many hats, working for Thrive Peer Support, Harm Reduction Ohio, and Homeless Hookup CLE, using her multifaceted skill set to give back.
Left- Ashley Rosser in her office at Homeless Hookup CLE’s new clothing outreach center. Right – Ashley handing out harm reduction supplies at a recovery outreach event.
A huge focus for Ashley in all of her efforts is harm reduction which, according to HarmReduction.org, “is a set of practical strategies and ideas aimed at reducing negative consequences associated with drug use. Harm Reduction is also a movement for social justice built on a belief in, and respect for, the rights of people who use drugs.” This approach can be controversial, but according to the CDC those who are a part of a harm reduction program are five times for likely to enter treatment.
On our way back from Youngstown, Ashley also shared with me how the idea came about for these recovery outreach efforts. She said that she kept seeing the number of deaths rise and wanted to do something, to act in a way that could have immediate impact. At the same time, Ashley’s friend Nicole Brantner with Project Worth Saving was feeling the same way, so they came together with a plan. They decided to set up popup shops or drive through outreach events all around the region, to start meeting people where they are and saving lives.
If nothing else, the way the community has come together in light of the Coronavirus has taught us that actions can make a difference and change is possible. There have been many efforts over the past several years to combat the addiction crisis, many planned out projects based on research and collaborations. However, these large projects sometimes take years to implement and for the lives of those in active addiction right now, that is way too long.
We need to continue well planned efforts, but with so many losing their lives daily, we also need to act now. No matter where or who you are, whether you have been directly impacted by addiction or not, you can make a difference in this fight.
Here are some ways you can get involved:
- Visit Overdose Prevention & Response or Homeless Hookup CLE on Facebook to learn how can support or volunteer for these efforts in Northeast Ohio.
- Go to Harm Reduction Ohio’s website to signup to receive Narcan for free through the mail. You could directly save a life!
- Reach out to learn how to start an outreach effort in your area.
- Copy the link and share this article so that more communities can learn about harm reduction and how they can act today!
To date, the outreach efforts in Northeast Ohio have served over 250 people providing over $1,200 worth of food and 70 boxes of Narcan. relink.org is so honored to be a part of these events by offering resource information and volunteering to distribute goods. We want to thank everyone who has volunteered their time at these events and everyone who chose to be brave and seek help. Always remember that hope and help is out there!
Note: All non-captioned photos were taken at the Akron outreach event by Visions of The Heart Photography, to view more click here.
The organizers understand the importance of safety in light of COVID-19 and are constantly working to maintain the protection of the community and volunteers at these events
About the Author
Bethany Friedrichsen is the Statewide Coordinator for relink.org. She has a background in psychology and has been working for the past three years in the addiction recovery and reentry space to create connection for people in need to the caring resources in their community.