An addiction awareness event now in its fifth year put a focus on hope and the future last Saturday, June 23.
Life or Drugs, a regional group that hosts support groups, training and addiction recovery resources, held the event in Berkeley Springs State Park.
The public gathering included games for children, free food, displays by human services groups, live music and speeches about the realities of drug addiction.
Team HOPE – a youth group formed to focus on the challenges of children ages 10 to 16 – played a prominent role in the gathering this year.
Organizer Jennifer Gloyd Schetrompf said the team meets each month and talks about the issues facing kids growing up in households affected by addiction.
She said the focus is on teaching team members how to make positive decisions for their future, and how to deal constructively with feelings like guilt and anger.
“To get ahead of the addiction issue, we knew we needed to talk to youth,” said Schetrompf.
Team member Brent Poole read his essay on the theme: “The me I want to be is drug-free.”
In it, Poole said he wants to grow up to be a U.S. Marshal and he knows he can’t do that if he’s using drugs. He also wrote about the judgment his mother faces for her previous addiction to heroin. She’s now been clean for four and a half years.
“She wasn’t given that. She earned it,” he said.
Pool said he doesn’t need drugs in his life.
“I’m going to change my family picture,” he said.
“The past is the past. The present is what you’re making of it. Don’t let a drug get in the way of that,” said Poole.
His mother, Gwen Franklin, spoke after her son.
She recounted how she began to use heroin in 2002 after her twins were born prematurely and didn’t survive.
“That’s a pain I don’t wish on anyone. It will be forever in my heart,” said Franklin. In an attempt to escape that pain, she took heroin that had been offered to her for the first time four days later.
“That led to an 11 and a half year addiction,” she said.
Franklin said she was the one who made the decision that day to take heroin.
“We all have consequences for our decisions,” she said. “Addiction took me places I never thought I’d go.”
Franklin said she “lied, cheated, stole” in an effort to get her drugs, and went to jail several times. She overdosed once, but was revived by a close friend. Three years ago, he died of a drug overdose.
She wondered why her life had been spared, but his wasn’t. Franklin told the crowd that she figured God had a plan for her life, which included telling her story in an effort to help others.
Franklin last took heroin on November 20, 2013. That day, she got arrested and went to prison.
“Prison saved my life,” she said. Eighteen months in prison made her “get my mind right.”
Returning home was scary because she was afraid of going back to her old ways, or seeing people she knew from her years doing drugs. She also realized how much of her son’s life she had missed.
“My parents raised him because of my bad decisions,” Franklin said.
“There will always be people who look down on me because I was an addict. That’s okay. That’s their issue, not mine,” she said.
Franklin said Team HOPE has helped both her and her son.
Team HOPE meets at The Refuge Community Church on Tuesday evenings. More information about the group or the Life or Drugs Tri-State Support group is available by calling 301-331-2916 or visiting lifeordrugs.org.