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'End Stigma' will have lasting impact

A park bench with “End Stigma: words matter” will be installed north of the basketball courts in Roberts Park as a lasting reminder of the End Stigma campaign to reduce premature deaths in the county. The bench is shown in this Photoshopped picture.

By DARRELL SMITH - dsmith@newsexaminer.com

The concert is over but the effort to end the stigma associated with substance abuse disorder will continue.

The Communities That Care campaign received a six-month $100,000 grant to bring awareness to the community about the number of early deaths in the county, which leads the state. Drug poisoning is the most common cause of death for the 35-55 age group.

The first couple months involved planning before the “End Stigma: words matter” billboard campaign that emphasized using words that do not hurt. Instead of saying “you’re a junkie,” say “you have a substance abuse disorder.”

T-shirts with the End Stigma slogan could be seen around the community. The big events came Aug. 23 with a workshop by Tonier Cain and the concert that night at Calvary Baptist Church.

About 100 people from schools, first responders, the state Department of Child Services, the recovery community and others attended the workshop with Cain, someone who experienced trauma in her life.

In the survey of those attending, most agreed they could use the information in their everyday lives, said Sarah Rathburn, Communities That Care director.

“Here’s a statement someone gave, ‘I hope I never forget to stop and take her advice and ask why or what happened to you,’” said Charmin Gabbard, a campaign committee member.

“The statement that stuck with me was ‘When I felt safe is when I began to heal,’” said Holly Dunn of CTC. “With the premise of the whole thing as why people in Fayette County died so young, how can we help this health despair. We have to cultivate an environment where they feel safe to heal.”

The concert with two well-known Christian bands sold 620 tickets.

The grant officially ends at the end of September.

The billboards will remain through the end of the month. Several surveys and a large amount of data has been collected so that will be reviewed, Rathburn said. The goal is that the population has seen the message at least four times.

A lasting, visible sign of the effort will be the dedication of a park bench on Friday, Sept. 27. Mayor Harold Gordon will proclaim the day as Recovery Day in Connersville.

When it arrives, the bench will be engraved with “End Stigma: words matter.” That morning, Jack Reed Jr. is donating his time to pour the concrete foundation.

Selected people who have been affected or have had friends or family members impacted by drug abuse disorder have been asked to place handprints in the wet concrete.

The committee is planning more workshops for trauma-informed response.

“In a trauma informed response, you are interested in what has happened to a person, what trauma have they been through that is causing their behavior,” Rathburn explained.

“Our trainer gave us this point, ‘Instead of saying what’s wrong with you, say what has happened to you?” Kay Riker Peyton said.

“Our police department is really good about working with people who have substance abuse disorder and try to connect their families with support,” said Holly Dunn of CTC. “It is really how you address someone who has a mental health disorder or substance abuse disorder or whatever disorder. It’s how you approach them most effectively and humanely. It is also acknowledging our own trauma.”

Witnessing trauma on multiple occasions will impact someone, she said. It is a priority at looking at premature death and first responders and thinking how they have been impacted over time, and how it is impacting them.

Meridian Health will offer sessions on trauma informed response so people can recognize trauma and the reaction to trauma versus viewing a person as being a bad apple, Rathburn added.

“I believed it before, but after the training, our first responders as a whole are humane and kind,” Dunn said.

The feedback has been amazing, Gabbard said.

“In all honesty, there was some negative that came from a few people that didn’t agree with the campaign,” she said. “One of the remarks was that we were deviating from the Bible, but for the most part, there was positive feedback.”

While it may not have changed some people’s opinion, it did challenge their thoughts and beliefs, Rathburn said.

“The long-term affect is the materials we’ve developed and signage to keep on promoting stigma and the acceptance of substance abuse disorder as a disease not to be ashamed of,” she said.

“I no longer call myself ‘a junkie,’ I’m a person in long-term recovery,” Gabbard said. “My children, I think, see me as a positive today and I think that we all want our children to see us as positive. Instead of calling people by labels, call them by name. We’re all human beings.”