FLINT, Mich. (WJRT) - Tuesday was International Overdose Awareness Day.
In Genesee County, the United Community Addiction Network, or UCAN, was honoring lives lost to addiction and highlighting prevention work being done daily in the community.
“It’s a dark day across the world when it comes to overdose, right? Overdose doesn’t mean death, but a lot of times death is the reality,” UCAN’s Aaron Rubio said. “So we’re trying to shed a light on the impact of overdoses in our community today.”
At Tuesday’s event, first responders shared their efforts to save lives with Narcan. On top of that, families who’ve lost loved ones are speaking up about their heartbreak. They included a Flint mom who turned her life around with the help of UCAN.
Sarah Blackburn was supposed to speak at Tuesday’s event, but couldn’t attend because her daughter was exposed to COVID at school. She isn’t complaining about extra time with her family right now though, after being separated from her 4-year-old daughter for several years.
“I’m going to be quite honest, 20 months ago I wouldn’t have seen my life where it is today, I really wouldn’t have,” Blackburn said.
The 25-year-old still has trouble believing she’s marked 20 months of sobriety.
“I wasn’t one of those addicts that started gradually,” Blackburn said. “I went right into heroin. I lost my sister back in 2014 and it kind of set me in a downward spiral a little bit.”
The addiction lasted six years. At times, she said she was using every day.
Countless doses of Narcan saved Blackburn’s life over and over again. Within just six months, she was brought back by the opioid reversal drug 11 times.
“I came from a family that was full of love. My parents were both together. I graduated high school. I had everything I could possibly want and I still ended up in the mess of addiction,” she said. “So it’s very important that people realize that it doesn’t discriminate.”
Finding herself living in an abandoned home on Flint’s east side is what finally helped turn Blackburn around. She had kept in touch with UCAN and 20 months ago, the organization helped Blackburn return to rehab.
She also credits her peer recovery coach with her eventual success.
“She pushed me,” Blackburn said. “She always made sure that I had somebody in my corner, and she always reminded me too that like, she went through the same things I did and that I’m not alone.”
Through UCAN, Blackburn is now supporting others. She’s able to share with them that getting sober allowed her custody of her 4-year-old daughter again, she bought a house, married her high school sweetheart and is adding one more baby to the family next February.
“I had my funeral arrangements planned out because I just, I never thought I would make it this far,” Blackburn said. “And this is a huge accomplishment for me and I just want other addicts to know like, this life is possible for you too. It’s just a matter of wanting it bad enough.”
She’s hopeful that the stigma surrounding addiction will diminish through event’s like Tuesday’s.
Genesee County has the state’s fourth-highest rate of Narcan administrations so far this year and the second-highest rate of suspected deadly overdoses. Through Aug. 26, Narcan administrations are down slightly since the same period last year, from 634 administrations down to just under 600.
But, suspected deadly overdoses are up in Genesee County, from 117 in the first eight months of 2020 to 130 so far this year.
Other Mid-Michigan communities are also taking on the concerns with overdoses head-on.
Shiawassee County’s Families Against Narcotics is hosting a 5K River Run on Sept. 11. Run Drugs Out of Town starts at 9 a.m. The organization is also sponsoring 100 K-12 students from each school district in the county to run the race for free.
Since that day marks 20 years since the 9/11 attacks, first responders will be acknowledged.
To sign up, visit www.runsignup.com and search “Run Drugs Out of Town.”
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