The title of this video blog is actually a misnomer. The epidemic isn't just here in the United States. It's global. Everywhere. It doesn't discriminate. It doesn't care where you live, whom you love, what you look like or what you believe in. Addiction affects all of us in one way or another. If you don't struggle with it, someone you care about does.
I was working on an incredible project in the months preceding my change of careers. It was an important project that I cared about deeply, and my managers knew it. I was following an innovative program at Magee Women's Hospital in Pittsburgh specifically targeting pregnant heroin addicts. The program was state of the art. And it was starting to change womens' lives. I had connected with a 24 year old heroin addict who got her drugs and commonly shot up in the streets not far from my house in Wilkinsburg. She had just found out she was pregnant and had gotten in touch with Magee to be part of their pilot program. She wanted to get clean so her baby wouldn't be born into her disease.
One of my greatest regrets about losing that job wasn't about me. I was heart-broken to lose my contact with that project and all the time and heart I had put into it. My former employers scrapped their involvement in it and instead, stuck with the traditional blood and guts and corruption and crime that's far easier and cheaper to cover for the nightly news cycle. But my commitment to the addiction crisis has only gotten stronger. I've met incredible people like the family behind Operation Recovery: Hope in a Bag who deliver bags of toiletries and personal essentials to hundreds of addicts in recovery. I've become good friends with Jimmy Woods and have seem him in operation with Mission.Mahi, his traveling food truck that delivers more than the most delicious fish tacos I've ever eaten. He offers hope to addicts. Everyone he hires is in recovery, including him. Four years sober and going strong.
So when National Overdose Awareness Day came across my radar (it's actually INTERNATIONAL), I knew August 31st would find me in Greensburg, Westmoreland County. A community particularly stung by 174 overdose deaths just last year, with 205 deaths expected this year. I showed up with my iPad at St. Clair Park where a group of recovering addicts and surviving family members gathered... along with 174 pairs of shoes representing each precious life lost to addiction. I stayed in the background for a while, not wanting to make anyone uncomfortable. But as the afternoon went on, more and more people approached ME, holding pictures of the loved ones they'll never kiss again. The sons they'll never hold again. The mothers they'll never celebrate again. Their stories are devastating. The pain is real. And the problem must be talked about.
There were no television stations there. No print reporters, either. At least none that I saw. Just me. Me and an iPad. Capturing an agony no one should ever feel.
It's important to me that you watch this video. It's taken me days and days to put it together. But beyond that, I hope you comment afterwards. I hope you share YOUR story. YOUR thoughts. We're in this together.