Regional recovery walk set

Among people age 12 or older in the U.S. in 2017, 7.2 percent had a substance use disorder in the past year, according to the Behavioral Health Barometer published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Such statistics are valid for virtually every U.S. community, including those in Blair County, according to Judy Rosser, executive director of the Blair Drug and Alcohol Partnerships, which, along with Rise for Recovery, is planning a “Central Pennsylvania Recovery Walk” to bring attention and sympathy to those dealing with addiction.

The central message of the walk, set for Aug. 17 in Hollidaysburg, is that many people who’ve been addicted are leading happy and productive lives, Rosser said.

In contrast to similar events designed to draw attention to cancer or heart disease, this one faces prejudice.

Lots of people look at those with substance abuse problems as the “dregs of the earth,” said Dr. Zane Gates, who will speak at the Blair County Courthouse at the end of the walk, which begins at Legion Park.

Those people ask of those dealing with addiction, “‘Why don’t they just quit?'” Gates said.

He asks of such people, “Do you think they really like living like that?”

Those people who ask that question fail to see that asking it like asking why a diabetic doesn’t quit having diabetes, Gates said.

The approach simply doesn’t work, he said.

As with any medical condition, a compassionate view is necessary, he said.

The compassionate approach helps to destigmatize addiction, and once that happens, “people will get treatment,” he said.

And treatment works, according to Rosser, Gates and Ryan Custead, youth pastor at Zion Lutheran Church in Hollidaysburg, member of Rise for Recovery, chairman of the walk committee and self-described “person in long-term recovery.”

Treatment can lead to the “beautiful, redemptive side” of the problem, Custead said.

The walk aims to help people see families that have experienced “happy endings” — in contrast to the catastrophic consequences that have become a virtual cliche in modern society, Custead said.

“It’s really about visibility,” Custead said. “We want people to know the recovery community is alive and active in central Penns­ylvania.”