“I’m a part of an organization called the Addict’s Parents United and they encourage us to, even in those we’ve lost, never look at them for anything other than who they were: the baseball player, the dancer, the kid who was a great singer, the one who brought smiles and life every time they walked into the room — that’s who we remember today,” Pastor Greg Delaney, who works with Woodhaven Residential Treatment Center, said during the National Overdose Awareness Day event Hope for Highland County and REACH for Tomorrow hosted on Monday. “We don’t remember them for what they put in their arm or their body — we remember them for who they were.”
Hope for Highland County Director Kim Davis and REACH for Tomorrow Director of Advocacy Beth Bullock, who organized the event, told The Times-Gazette that they felt it was important to hold it in order to give members of the community a space to grieve for those they have lost to substance use disorder.
“I really believe that mourning the loss of a loved one who has passed away from an overdose still comes with a certain amount of stigma, and a lot of people still struggle with sharing, even with other family members,” Davis said. “Even in recovery itself, connection is so important. It’s about having support, so you can be in a safe environment and know that other people are there with you.”
Bullock, who lost her oldest son in 2014, told The Times-Gazette that she and her family used similar events to connect with others who were also grieving those who had experienced fatal overdoses.
“We have a hard time memorializing them and getting out there with other families. This was an effort to bring people together in a very low-key situation and for a short period of time. It was just a way to recognize the day and use that as an opportunity to bring people together,” Bullock said. “For me, it was healing to go to these kinds of things. If I would’ve just stayed home and just went to work every day, for me personally, that would’ve killed me.”
Bullock added that learning about substance use disorder, the services available in her community, and getting involved locally — both through her organization Brave Choices and other organizations — helped her heal.
Monday’s event featured three speakers, including Delaney, who has been sober for over 12 years.
Roger Winemiller, a farmer from Blanchester whose story was covered by The New York Times in 2017, spoke about life after he lost two children to overdoses.
“I lived addiction for probably 18 years between three kids. Back in 2016, on Easter eve, my daughter — who was three years sober — came to the house to spend the night, went into the bathroom and never came out. I found my dead daughter face down on the floor. Fentanyl-heroin overdose,” Winemiller said Monday. “It rattled my life big time. I went into a big depression. Then, five days before Christmas, I lost my second child to an overdose. …
“I often say if I’d known then what I know now — I couldn’t promise that my two kids would still be alive today but I could promise you that they’d have a lot better chance of making it. Addiction is an awful disease — and a disease it is. I learned that the hard way. If there are any parents here that have that ‘just quit’ attitude, I would suggest you go and get educated on addiction. It’s not ‘just quit.’”
Following Winemiller, a man who identified himself only as Mark also spoke at the event.
“Two and a half years ago, if I’d come up here to tell you a little about myself, the only things I could’ve told you was, ‘I’m a convicted felon, I’m a thief, I’m a liar, and I’m a drug addict.’ That pretty much summed me up,” Mark said. “I battled this disease every day for 28 years. I tried to do it on my own — I thought I could figure this thing out by myself. If you’re here and you’re an addict, you already know wars of addiction. We’ve all got the same story — they may vary a little bit, but they’re all the same story.”
After Mark entered a Clinton County treatment program in 2018, he said his life changed profoundly. Mark said when he was first admitted to the treatment program he was ‘so messed up’ that he was unable to have full conversations with other people.
Though he said his recovery has been a “rough process,” Mark was able to help the same sober living house that first helped him in his recovery.
“There’s a stigma that once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict,” Mark said. “That may be true in a sense, but I’m here to tell you that you can recover from this disease. Not only can you recover — not only can you just not use drugs again — but you can have a good life, and you can be happy, and you can experience things that you’ve never experienced in your life. I experienced joy and freedom that I’ve never had before.”
Bullock said they plan to hold National Overdose Awareness Day events in Highland County in the coming years.
According to Davis, Hope for Highland County is planning to have its next event in late October or November. To stay up-to-date on future events, like or follow the “Hope for Highland County” Facebook page.
Local resources for those with substance use disorder and their families:
* Bullock encouraged those who need additional help finding and connecting with resources to contact her. Reach her at 513-212-8176.
* 3 Waters Recovery Center is a faith-based recovery center that offers outpatient treatment programs that focus on individuals’ physical, emotional and spiritual health. 3 Waters has offices in Goshen and Seaman. Learn more by visiting www.3watersrecovery.com or by calling 513-575-7879.
* Celebrate Recovery is a faith-based recovery group that offers a safe place for anyone who may be struggling to find a sense of belonging, take on healthy risks and challenges, and come to God. The group meets every Friday at 7 p.m. at Common Ground Community Church, located at 7406 Mad River Rd., Hillsboro. Learn more by calling 937-402-7693.
* Family Recovery Services (FRS), based in Highland County, offers mental health counseling as well as opiate and alcohol treatment. During the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition’s meeting in late August, FRS CEO Roger Cheesbro reported that the agency’s Massie House program, a residential treatment program for those with substance use disorder, is accepting referrals. Learn more at www.familyrecoveryservices.org, or by calling 937-393-4562 and select Option 1 when prompted.
* Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health (SPVMH) offers residential and outpatient treatment for substance use disorder. Those admitted to SPVMH’s residential programs — which, for men, takes place at the Rulon Center in Chillicothe, and for women, takes place at the Lynn Goff Clinic in Greenfield — will complete a 90-day in-patient treatment program, which focuses on evidence-based interventions. An SPVMH representative at Monday’s event told The Times-Gazette that the agency also has a support group for teenagers. SPVMH is currently offering telehealth, in-person and hybrid group meetings. Learn more at www.spvmhc.org, or by calling 740-775-1260. Highland County residents in crisis should call 937-393-9904.
* Bullock invited those interested in getting involved locally to attend Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition meetings. The coalition meets on the last Thursday of each month. The next meeting will be held virtually on Sept. 24 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit the Highland County Drug Abuse Prevention Coalition Facebook page.
Reach McKenzie Caldwell at 937-402-2570.