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A call for change: Awareness is Healing Walk draws crowd

Photo by GEORGE PELLETIER Hundreds of activists, supporters, those in recovery gathered by Nashua’s City Hall for the bi-annual ‘Awareness is Healing Walk to Stop Heroin/Opioid abuse’ Saturday morning.

NASHUA – Several hundred activists, supporters, those in recovery and those who have lost friends and loved ones to drug-related deaths took part in the bi-annual Awareness is Healing Walk to Stop Heroin/Opioid abuse Saturday morning at Nashua’s City Hall.

The approximate 3-mile walk for recovery began at City Hall and looped Main Street.

The event was an opportunity for many to celebrate recovery, show support, generate hope and reduce the stigma attached to the disease of drug addiction.

Many there had lost someone to a drug-related overdose, some in the past decade, some in the past year and some in the past few days.

Clanging cowbells filled the morning air, along with car horns, as motorists passing by offered their support.

Photo by GEORGE PELLETIER Event participants carried signs while participating in the walk. Many signs offered messages of hope for those struggling with opioids and those who have lost loved ones to the epidemic.

Dozens of those who attended showed their own support with signs with a call for change. Others wore T-shirts honoring and remembering someone they’ve lost.

Nashua-based nonprofit peer-recovery support center, Revive Recovery, whose mission is to open doors and open minds, was featured prominently on knapsacks, bags and shirts that were donned.

One of the day’s many recurring themes, was “knowledge is recovery.” Others chanted the mantra, “stay connected.”

According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, New Hampshire has the second-highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the country. Nashua offers its own unique perspective on the epidemic and has various community approaches to tackle the issue, including being a “Safe Station” city, where opioid addicts can go to any city fire station – free of reprisal – to be connected with essential recovery services.

In addition, there is the Mayor’s Opioid Task Force, which brings together community leaders and concerned Nashuans, using a “collective impact” model to combat various components of this public health issue.

Photo by GEORGE PELLETIER Event participants carried signs while participating in the walk. Many signs offered messages of hope for those struggling with opioids and those who have lost loved ones to the epidemic.

Organizers Darlene Pina, along with Stephanie Palermo-Murphy and Michelle Ball, worked feverishly to spread the word that awareness can lead to recovery.

“For me personally, working at the Nashua Soup Kitchen, it’s a big deal,” said Palermo-Murphy. “I lost my uncle four years ago. It was one of the hardest things I ever had to deal with. Darlene actually knew my uncle. She had the idea for the walk. It’s affecting more people than you think.'”

Initially, said Palermo-Murphy, “the first walk, there were 75 people, then there were 300 and then it became a big thing. I think it’s about healing for a lot of people.”

For many who have seen loved ones succumb to the disease, the shock is followed by education.

“I just wanted people to be aware that it’s a bigger problem than they think,” she said. “A lot of people think it’s the user’s choice. But a lot of it leads from mental illness.”

Sometimes it’s easier to use drugs, than to deal with the problem, Palermo-Murphy said.

“People don’t just decide to jump into it and say, ‘Hey, today I’m going to do heroin.'”

For Ball, it’s about awareness and healing.

“I lost four members of my family to addiction – all different types of drugs,” she said. “And I still have friends and families that are fighting it. So not only am I here to remember the people that I lost, but I’m here to support those who are still fighting. I think that it’s a way that I can give back.”