45 share recovery stories in Addiction Recovery Week in Wolfe County, nation’s most vulnerable to disease outbreaks from drugs

Tinley Creech, Darian Creech, Connie Campbell and Ashton Burks pose after doing the virtual 5K as part of Wolfe County Addiction Recovery Week. All are in the same household. (Photo provided)

By Katie Pratt
University of Kentucky

Recovering from drug addiction can take many years with many bumps in the road along the way, as Wolfe County resident Dena Brooks can attest. Brooks has been in recovery for nearly six years. Today, she stays busy raising her daughter and working as the director of the Wolfe County senior citizens center.

“My life is finally where it should be now,” she said. “I have a new home, a new job and am very involved with the community.”

But getting to this point in her life was not easy. For years, Brooks used pills and then progressed to meth. She went to federal prison for nine months on a drug conviction. After her release, she sought help at a drug treatment center so she could regain custody of her daughter. After leaving the center, she stayed sober for three years before she relapsed. She was arrested on another federal drug charge but has since had her conviction overturned. Since then, she has been determined to stay sober.

“Drugs do not discriminate,” she said. “If my story can help one person, it is worth telling.”

Brooks was one of 45 Wolfe County residents who shared their drug recovery stories as part of Wolfe County’s Addiction Recovery Week, organized by the Wolfe County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, Wolfe County Schools Family Resource and Youth Services Center and the Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.

During the week, the organizations hosted in-person and virtual events to celebrate those in their community who are recovering from drug addiction and to provide them with resources to support their continued sobriety.

“It was such a positive thing to see somebody finally caring about recovery and praising people who are in recovery,” Brooks said. “No one has done anything like this for Wolfe County before.”

Wolfe County (Wikipedia map)

Wolfe County is consistently one of the state’s poorest counties and faces many drug-related issues with little resources. It leads the nation for the vulnerability of its population to an outbreak of HIV or Hepatitis C because of the opioid epidemic and a lack of a local syringe exchange. In 2018, it had one of the state’s highest per-capita rates for drug arrests.

Alyssa Cox, family and consumer sciences extension agent, had been working with her extension colleagues Heather Graham and Jessica Morris and community partners to create the recovery week prior to the pandemic. While the pandemic changed how they delivered their programming, it did not change the week’s focus.

“The goal of this week was to bring awareness to the challenges of addiction recovery and to rally behind our local residents who fight this battle every day,” Cox said.

One of the week’s highlights was the opportunity for people in recovery to share their stories and personal photos during a Facebook Live event. As their stories were told, Morris, the county’s 4-H youth development agent, lit a sparkler in their honor.

“Often, you hear about the drug busts or people saying, ‘That’s just another drughead.’ It is so nice for extension to show us that they care and brag on us,” said Tosha Turner, who also shared her recovery story during the event. “It really means a lot.”

Turner has been in recovery for four years. She was addicted to pills and meth. Her drug addiction led her to robbery. She sought treatment after going to jail for her first felony.

“I was as bad as they come, because I didn’t care about anyone or anything when I was on drugs,” Turner said. “If I can recover, anyone can do it.”

She said her daughters are the reason she stays in recovery. Since she has been in recovery, she has worked and saved money to purchase a car. She is now going back to school to become a nurse.

In addition to sharing local recovery stories, extension and its community partners offered socially distant yoga in the park. Individuals in recovery received vouchers for 10 free yoga sessions, thanks to the Agency for Substance Abuse Policy. Each participant also received a free yoga mat.

Graham, who is Wolfe County’s extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, spearheaded a countywide road cleanup in which participants received a cleaning kit and could clean any road in the county they chose.

The extension office also hosted a Recovery Run, which was a virtual 5K that individuals could participate in to honor someone in recovering from addiction. Race participants received a free T-shirt and resources related to substance use and addiction that they picked up through an extension drive-thru event. The Agency for Substance Abuse Policy also offered a free, drive-thru Narcan training for anyone interested.

Cox said due to the success of the week, extension plans to host the event again in 2021.

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