On February 25, the Addiction Prevention Coalition (APC) will host their first End Heroin Walk at Railroad Park. The free event is designed to serve as a safe place for families impacted by heroin and opiate abuse to support each other.
J. Sandor Cheka, the executive director of APC, said that the community has to get involved to fight the epidemic. “We believe that solutions are best arrived at through community conversations,” said Cheka. “We believe wholeheartedly in reaching out to people who are willing to have the conversation with us or partner with us about these issues.”
The APC, a nonprofit organization, started with the goal to connect people with drug treatment and recovery options in the area. “A lot of people just think of detox when they think of recovery, but we have detox, we have treatment centers, recovery centers, support groups, job placement, kind of the full gambit of what somebody will need in recovery,” Cheka said.
Over time, APC expanded, seeking to figure out ways to stop addiction in the first place. As a result, the APC now works with 15 schools throughout the Birmingham area and offers active community outreach. Cheka said that while the APC has done several prevention-focused walks in the past, a volunteer suggested the idea of a heroin walk. “He [the volunteer] was affected by the issue, and he wanted people to understand that they are not alone,” Cheka said.
Cheka believes the walk is important because there is a “conspiracy of silence” when it comes to heroin use resulting from the consuming fear that people involved will be labeled. While he understands that people go through grief in their own way, Cheka hopes that the walk will give people a voice that they originally didn’t think they had.
“I think, the whole purpose of this walk is, yes, to raise awareness about the issue we face here in the community. But the real purpose of this walk is to … have people talk about what they’re going through and to just have an honest conversation with someone that’s not going to tell them what to do or how to do it or tell them they’re a bad parent, but to just have someone say, ‘I understand, let me tell you my story,’” he said. “And I think that is the impactful nature of this event: it’s finally giving people the opportunity and the voice to have this conversation. There are hundreds of people going through this alone and this walk gives them the opportunity and permission to come and talk [about what they’re going through].”
People attending the event will be offered several resources, including information about various recovery options available to them and hearing stories from others who are going through the same ordeal. Walk attendees will also be able to attend a naloxone education event courtesy of the Jefferson County Department of Health, where people can learn about the drug and how to use it in an emergency. Naloxone, experts say, can reverse a heroin overdose and send the individual into immediate detox.
Overall, Cheka said, the event lets people know that they don’t have to be afraid to tell their story and that help is available to those who seek it. “We want people to come [to the event] with the expectation that through their openness, they’re going to help someone else who is struggling right now,” he said. “And the big thing for us is that at the end of the day people are going to walk away knowing that there is hope.”
The numbers related to heroin use are “devastating,” Checka said, adding that one of the hardest parts about prepping the walk is hearing people tell their stories of loved ones lost to the drug. “I met a woman who talked about her daughter passing away, and now she’s raising her grandchildren. I talked to a young woman who had lost the love of her life and the father of her kids. And it’s not in a certain area. It’s downtown and over the mountain and in the rural communities. It’s everywhere.
“This is not an isolated problem,” Cheka continued. “We are all going through this together, but at the end of the day the only way we can overcome it is if we stick together and understand that it’s not something we can be quiet about anymore.”
The End Heroin BHAM Walk will take place at 10 a.m. at Railroad Park. For more information regarding the event visit the event’s Facebook page at facebook.com/events/356929361351908/ . For more information regarding the Addiction Prevention Coalition, visit addictionpreventioncoalition.org or call (205) 874-8498.