How Do You Choose to View a Tragedy?

This post is copied from a comment in a thread. The comment was written by Tom Kelleher who witnessed the incredible tragedy of the gentleman getting hit and killed by a driver who was arrested afterwards for driving under the influence of drugs and vehicular manslaughter.

We, as an organization, have seen an incredible up-swelling of stigma, damning language, insults and judgement towards people with substance use disorders since the tragedy. We grappled with whether we should provide a statement as an organization, or not. And then, we saw this… an approach with love. We couldn’t have written anything better. We reached out to Tom and with his permission, are sharing his words here.

Can we approach all things with love? Can we come together as a community to prevent more tragedies?

This situation is tragic, for everyone involved, all the way around. This woman and her family will feel the effects of this for a lifetime. My prayers go out to the poor man who lost his life, to this woman, to her family, to all of those who witnessed this tragic event and had to deal with the immediate consequences, and all of those who suffer addiction.

I have no judgment towards this woman. I have not walked in her shoes. I do not know the path of her life and what brought her to this point. We know not what others’ lives are like, what they experience or how they end up where they do. I have tried to approach this with “LOVE”… asking the question “What would love do?” A lesson taught to me by Anthony Tony Brunelli. I do not judge her. My first thought is “but for the grace of god, there go I.”

I have tried to approach this with “LOVE”… asking the question “What would love do?”

I too, had addiction issues in my life, that did take me to bad places and could have taken me to far worse ones. Addictions that could have taken me to the place this woman finds herself in. Addictions that could have destroyed me, my family, my life, and the lives of others. The purpose of this post is to show what drug addiction can do to someone, the path it leads them down, the tragedies that can occur, the consequences not just to them, but to their families, to others, to others’ families, to a community. If this post can deter, or change one person from going down this path, then it is more than worth it.

This post is meant to show compassion, healing, love, forgiveness. The post is meant to facilitate discussion on how we can treat addiction, as the way we currently treat it, is obviously not working. I have been working on the issue of addiction for quite some time. I have worked firsthand with individuals, trying to help them beat addiction. I have had a few successes. The path is long and hard, and the outcome never guaranteed. I have lost some to a lifetime of addiction, and lost some to death. People I knew and cared for, gone because of the horrificness of drug addiction. Dead, long before their time… passed away so young. The successes have been fulfilling, to see someone beat addition, a full life retrieved with happy marriage and children to follow, that I may have played some small role in… The addiction, hopefully a thing of their past… yet there are no guarantees.

Our area needs a full, in-house, long term treatment facility… truly long term, six month treatment, six month recovery house system. Our state and local representatives are way behind the curve as this type of facility should have been in place three years ago. Broome Developmental would be the perfect facility for this type of treatment program. It is already designed to handle inpatient, common open wards, common areas, recreation areas and the potential for recovery housing units. We should also have recovery houses located in the community.

We have had hundreds die in our own community due to this opioid crisis and government officials have been slow on the uptake to take serious actions. Secondly, this facility would be regional, helping communities across the state deal with this crisis, saving the lives of thousands, or tens of thousands of lives, as well as saving multi millions of dollars as a result of crimes committed to fund this addiction, as well as multi millions of dollars spent in our police, justice and penal systems, arresting those suffering from addiction – a MEDICAL condition, clogging court systems and jail systems, only to return them to the streets where there is practically zero chance of them beating this addiction on their own. We must, MUST, do something as a community to stop this. Please contact your state representatives – Fred Akshar, Clifford Crouch and Donna Lupardo.

But back to this moment. I witnessed this incident first hand, for this poor man being hit, then run over, then wedged underneath her car, and watched as he was dragged underneath her car for 100 feet. His body crumpled beyond recognition, broken and torn. I fought furiously, with many other people to attempt to save this man’s life, gathering bystanders together to flip this car off of him, and hopefully save him… but sadly, he had already passed.

Was I angry with her? Yes. But, I got past that immediately… I feel compassion for her, I feel badly for her. I feel badly for her family. Her child. My life, her life and this poor man’s life intersected that day, and I will never, ever forget it. It will impact me till the day I die. It has changed me.

This post was not to judge her, this was not to embarrass her. Far from it. I hold no ill will towards her, nor do I judge her. If she violated the law and is found guilty of a crime in relation to this incident, then our justice system and society will judge her. I do not. This man had no family that anyone is aware and he lived alone. He did not die alone that day, nor was the loss of his life in vain. A community came together to try and save his life, and a community came together to celebrate his life at a memorial service and vigil at my store.

Now, a community must come together to try and make certain these tragedies do not occur again and again. Life is precious. Life is fragile. ALL life.

There are no guarantees of a tomorrow for any of us.

Hold your loved ones closely, let them know how much you love them. We never know when our time comes. We never know when our last moment on this planet arrives. I wish everyone peace.

Love,

Tom Kelleher

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2016 – A Year of Rainmaking!

So, “what,” you ask “does a Rainmaker do?”

What does Truth Pharm do?

Well, Rainmakers are change-makers, game-changers, powerhouses, people who refuse to accept no for an answer. They are optimistic, driven and produce results. Despite current negative conditions, they work to overcome. When a challenging problem exists with no apparent or clear solution – a Rainmaker will find and create solutions! They will take action.

That’s a Rainmaker – and that is what Truth Pharm is made up of. People who will create change and WILL have an impact on this epidemic.

Per our mission:  Truth Pharm works to raise awareness, reduce the stigma, educate the public and advocate for policy and law changes surrounding substance use and treatment.

And here is a summary of how we went about creating change in 2016!

Awareness and Outreach Events:

  • Hosts for Hancock Awareness Event – 2/11/16 – 70 attendees
  • Guest Speaker for Bainbridge Guilford Afton Awareness event hosted by Lourdes and Senator Akshar 3/9/16 – 350 attendees
  • Tabled at Children’s Wyoming Conference Home Event Binghamton NY – 3/10/16
  • Mind and Magic 3/11/16 – 40 attendees
  • Tabled at The Forks 15 Run Chenango Forks NY – 3/20/16
  • Hosted Walton Awareness Event – 4/13/16 – 140 attendees
  • 1st Annual Jamison Turkow Memorial Walk – 5/7/16 – 300 attendees
  • Hosted Awareness Event Sherburne Earlville – 5/23/16 – 150 attendees
  • Free Hugs Event – 8/5/16 – contact with over 300 people
  • Trail of Truth – International Overdose Awareness Day Walk – 8/31/16 – 350 attendees
  • Illuminating Truth – First Friday Art Walk – street painting, recovery awareness, community resources, recovery celebration, building projection during LUMA – 9/2/16 – 400 attendees
  • Trail of Truth Redo due to county removing our memorial – 9/7/16 – 80 attendees
  • Tabled at Clinton Street Business Fair Binghamton NY – 9/10/16
  • Tabled at Apple Fest Endicott NY – 9/17/16
  • Tabled at Mural Fest Binghamton NY – 9/17/17
  • Presented to Jenny F. Snapp PATS committee regarding parent education Truth Pharm could provide – 10/4/16 – 25 attendees
  • Trunk or Treat – family trick or treating and Awareness event – 10/15/16 – 150 attendees
  • Tabled at 5th Annual Chocolate Festival by Addictions Center of Broome County – 11/6/16
  • Alexis Pleus served on panel of speakers for Roosevelt Institute at Binghamton University to unveil the Binghamton Blueprint – 11/14/16
  • Tabled at the Thankful Jam – 11/22/16
  • Alexis Pleus spoke at New York State SEFA Luncheon about Truth Pharm and the Epidemic – 12/1/16 – 35 attendees
  • Total 2390 attendees reached through awareness events + countless individuals at tabling events

 

Education:

  • Provided 4 hour PAARI Angel Training Oxford, NY – 2/27/16 – 45 attendees
  • Hancock NY – Understanding Signs, Symptoms and Behaviors of Substance Use Disorders – 3/10/16 – 45 attendees
  • Alexis Pleus Keynote speaker at Genesee County Victims Week Conference 4/12/16 – 200 attendees
  • Developing empathy and understanding for people suffering from Substance Use Disorders, Otego, NY – 4/19/16 – 15 attendees
  • Walton NY – Roundtable event – 5/25/16 – 30 attendees
  • Sherburne Earlville NY – Roundtable event – 6/21/16 – 25 attendees
  • Garden of Hope – Monthly education meetings for families – May-Dec. 2016 – 20-50 attendees each event
  • Alexis Pleus speaker for District Attorney’s SAFE Families Program – 8/11/16 – 50 attendees
  • Alexis Pleus speaker for Oxford Community Conversations on Drugs and Use in the Community – 10/20/16 – 50 attendees
  • Hosted John Barry of Southern Tier AIDS Program (STAP) to discuss Safe Injection Sites – 11/17/16 – 35 attendees
  • Total 640 attendees provided in-depth education.

 

Naloxone Training:

  • Hancock NY (STAP) – 2/17/16 – 45 attendees
  • Otego NY (STAP) – 4/19/16 – 15 attendees
  • Walton NY (STAP) – 4/20/16 – 35 attendees
  • Turkow Walk (STAP) – 5/7/16 – 15 referrals to training
  • Binghamton NY (STAP) – 5/26/16 – 25 attendees
  • Walton NY (STAP) – 6/1/16 – 20 attendees
  • Sherburne Earlville NY (STAP) 6/16/16 – 20 attendees
  • 20 families referred directly to STAP for training
  • Total 200 people trained on Naloxone use
  • 9 overdose reversals, 9 lives have been saved using Naloxone kits obtained through sessions hosted by Truth Pharm

School Events:

  • High school assembly in Hancock NY 8th – 12th graders – 5/13/16 – 150 students
  • High school assembly in Oxford NY 9th – 12th graders – 5/18/16 – 150 students
  • High School Assembly in Oxford NY 9th-12th graders – 12/23/16 – 80 students
  • Total 380 school students educated

Community Response Action Plans:

  • Hancock NY – Results: 3 events hosted, a open recreation time for youth created, counselling offered by local pastor – January – March 2016
  • Walton NY – Results: 4 events hosted, a family support group formed, police carrying Naloxone, Police Chief and Mayor developing programs for the county for Substance Use Recovery Supports – March – May 2016
  • Sherburne Earlville NY – Results: 3 events hosted, local company to host corporate education, a family support group created, a lasting branch of Truth Pharm created, Mayor writes letter of support to County for PAARI Program, Police support addition of prescription drop box and sharps disposal in the village – April–June 2016
  • Delhi NY – Results: 2 community events hosted – July–Oct. 2016
  • Total of 4 communities in 3 counties empowered, educated and with long-lasting impacts

National/Federal Involvement:

  • Teleconference with Michael Boticelli – 2/2/16
  • Placed on Facing Addiction Action Committee – (monthly meetings) Feb 2016
  • Attended Hill Day June 2016
  • Alexis Pleus attended “Addiction, a White House Discussion”, White House, DC – 6/7/16
  • Alexis Pleus invited to SAMHSA to provide input on materials to be produced for families who have lost a loved one – 10/27/16

Police & Criminal Justice Outreach:

  • Laid the ground work for Broome County Sheriff’s Office to start a local PAARI Program – 2015
  • Provided program outline for treatment and Vivitrol program at Broome County Jail – 2015
  • Collaborated with Oxford Police to create Oxford Road to Recovery Program, provided volunteer training, host Facebook page, assist with placements, rides and troubleshooting program – Feb.-Dec. 2016 – Placed 28 people in treatment in 2016
  • Assisted District Attorney Cornwell’s SAFE Program Feb.-April 2016
  • Meet with Chenango County to discuss Oxford, NY program – 3/17/16
  • Met with Walton NY Police to discuss carrying naloxone and reducing stigma – 4/5/17
  • Met with Sherburne Earlville Village Police to discuss naloxone and reducing stigma – 7/7/16
  • Met with Binghamton Drug Court, Judge Pellela – 7/22/16
  • Presentation for Penn Yan Heroin Task force on PAARI programs and how to create one in their community – 10/26/16
  • Met with Chenango County Sheriff’s Office to explore options to institute a PAARI Program – 11/15/16

Jail/Incarceration Outreach:

  • Visited two people in Broome County jail to discuss their future and desire to obtain treatment.
  • Assisted three families in advocating for their loved ones while incarcerated at Broome County Jail to be evaluated and then transferred directly to treatment at Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services.
  • Assisted three people and their families to seek and obtain placement in Drug Court to reduce incarceration.
  • Assisted several families to successfully advocate or their loved ones to be place in treatment instead of jail.

Obtaining Treatment, System Navigation, Family Awareness and Education:

  • Assisted more than 50 people in navigating the treatment system and to obtain treatment. Paid for many flights, months of sober living, treatment fees, bus tickets, etc.
  • Assisted more than 200 families through direct contact in understanding their loved ones’ substance use disorder, how to communicate with them and now to navigate the system to obtain help or treatment.

Corporate Education:

  • Provided Employee sensitivity and awareness training for VOA Men’s home – 3/2/16
  • Provided employee sensitivity and awareness training for Sidney Federal Credit Union – 5/17/16
  • Met with Frontier Communications to educate them on the epidemic and what they can do as an employer – 9/21/16

Collaboration Projects:

  • Assisted District Attorney Cornwell’s SAFE Program Feb.-April 2016
  • Seat on Tioga County Community Task Force for Addiction Epidemic (monthly meetings)– 2016
  • Senator Akshar’s Heroin Task Force (quarterly meetings) – 2016
  • Joined JUST – Justice and Unity in the Southern Tier (monthly meetings) – May-Dec. 2016
  • Participated in forum hosted by Assemblyman Al Stirpe to discuss resources to address Substance Use Disorders in NY – 9/22/16

Media:

  • Interview on WIX Radio – 2/3/16
  • Interview with WICZ 2/4/16, 2/22/16, 3/21/16, 8/9/16
  • Participated in WSKG Community Conversation on Opioid Epidemic 2/9/16
  • Kingfisher Project Radio Interview 2/15/16
  • Press & Sun Bulletin Interview 2/16/16, 3/30/16, 7/19/16, 7/28/16
  • WNBF with Roger Neal 3/3/16
  • The Guardian, Chris Arnade – 3/13/16
  • Alexis Pleus has article published in The Fix 2/17/16
  • Kingfisher Project 4/5/16, 5/2/16, 5/9/16, 5/16/16
  • WNBF with Bob Joseph – 8/12/16

Advocacy:

  • Invited to speak at NY Senate Heroin Task Force in Penn Yan – 2/23/16 – 150 attendees
  • Advocated in Albany, met with over 60 Assemblypersons and Senators on a total of 13 visits between February and June 2016
  • Spoke at Governor Cuomo’s Heroin Task Force event at Binghamton University – 5/31/16 – 60 attendees
  • Attended Broome County Legislature meetings to advocate for appropriate spending for opioid epidemic – 10/13/16
  • Met with City of Binghamton to explore ways they can help with the epidemic – 11/9/16

Training:

  • Attended Rotary Luncheon with Jill Halford-Hammit as speaker 2/23/16
  • How communities can work together Webinar – 3/23/16
  • NYCON Board member training Webinar – 3/24/16
  • 8 hour training course – Core Principles Substance Use Treatment – Broome County – 3/30/16
  • NYCON marketing Webinar – 4/21/16
  • All about AA support – ATTC Webinar – 4/21/16
  • Obtained Certification as Naloxone Trainer NY Health Dept. at Tioga County – 4/25/16
  • SAMHSA Chronic Pain Management Webinar – 4/26/16
  • SAMHSA webinar – 4/27/16
  • NYCON Webinar – 4/28/16
  • Attended SAMHSA Hill Day – 6/6-6/7/16
  • Attended Medical Assisted Treatment Training – Broome Co. Drug Court – 8/10/16
  • Mental Health First Aid training – MHAST – 9/20/16
  • Attended Media Summit training for nonprofits by RVSA – 9/23/16
  • Attended NYCON Camp Finance on scholarship – 10/6-10/7/16
  • Attended the Harm Reduction Conference on scholarship 11/2-11/6/16
  • Attended the unveiling of the Surgeon General’s Report on Addiction hosted by Facing Addiction 11/17/16
  • Attended Integrative Harm Reduction Therapy – 24 hour training by Andrew Tatarsky – 12/2-12/4/16

Grants & Fundraising:

  • Applied for $5k for Constitution Pipeline Grant for Naloxone outreach to EMS agencies – awarded $2k for purchase of kits only
  • Applied for $5k for Community Foundation of South Central NY Grant for Tioga County Community Response Action Plans – awarded $2,500
  • A total of $31,910 raised through fundraising events and individual donations
  • Total Year Budget = $36,410.

*2016 was the first year of our 501c3. Since we did not have nonprofit status in 2015, no fundraisers were hosted, no donations were accepted or EVER collected. ALL efforts in 2015 were financially supported and provided by Founder and Director Alexis Pleus.

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How to Offer Support to Grieving Families

As we are waking up to this news of another overdose death, can I please offer some advice?

First, most families will not want to discuss the intricate details of ‘what happened’ though most people seem obsessed or even entitled to know. The families in these early stages are still trying to process and believe ‘what happened’. It’s not your business to ask them. Though if they choose to talk about it, or want to, if you can handle it, let them.

500 messages asking “What happened” is awful and not helpful. Though, 500 messages of how sorry you are, or how wonderful your child is may save your life. Acronyms have never felt more offensive than they did getting them within minutes and hours of getting the news about Jeff. OMG and WTF messages were very upsetting to me. If you message the family member and they don’t respond, whatever you do, do not hound them for a reply. I literally had people doing this to me – demanding to be told what happened or to whom.

If you by some chance learn of the information early on. Remember, it is not for you to share with the world until the family has done so. Most of my family found out because someone posted RIP on my son’s wall before I was even notified of his death. In fact, before his body was even removed from his apartment. His brothers, father and best friends all learned of his passing from a facebook post. It’s NOT your news to share. Wait until the family posts before you post a name or information on social media.

If you don’t know what to say, the best thing to say is, I’m sorry or, I’m here for you. Or, I’ll listen to anything you have to say.

The most comforting thing is to hear about your child. Tell us a story, tell us something they did. Tell us why you’ll miss them. Tell us what you’ll miss about them. Tell us the last happy time you saw them.

Saying, “if there’s anything I can do, call me” is not helpful at all. Immediate family members in severe shock and grief have no idea what to ask people to do and can’t orchestrate volunteers and phone calls. If you want to help them, just find a way. I’ll never forget friends of our family showing up to clean my house and mow my lawn. People brought us food all week and thank god because I never would have been able to make a meal. A friend made flower arrangements to put on the tables at Jeff’s picnic… Another friend stepped in and orchestrated his picnic, many others people worked at his picnic all day and two stayed behind and managed all the clean up. Someone even showed up and brought a huge pack of toilet paper and tissues. I don’t even remember who, but it was incredibly thoughtful and believe me, I wouldn’t have thought to go to a store for anything. These were the gestures that helped us survive the first two weeks. I don’t know what we would have done without this kind of help.

And just going and sitting with them and letting them reminisce is helpful.

The following phrases are not comforting for most people: God has a plan, God must have needed him more, his struggles are over, time heals, it will get better with time, he’s at peace now… at least they were not helpful for me. Whatever you do, don’t compare the loss of a child to a pet… or even a parent… it’s really not the same, only similar.

And absolutely NOTHING about their cause of death, other than ‘you’re sorry’.

And don’t forget the children of, siblings, grandparents and close friends. They need comforting too. It meant a great deal to me to see my youngest son’s friends coming to spend time with him, taking him for a walk, fishing, whatever. He needed that too. And I know I was incapable of comforting my mom, so if I saw someone sitting with her and talking to her, that truly helped me.

I think everyone has good intentions, but it gets tiresome for someone who has just experienced the unimaginable to have to make that excuse for others over and over. Since it probably IS true that everyone has good intentions, it’s good to just try and align those with what is truly helpful.

And keep checking on them… for months… years…

Much love, Alexis Pleus mom of Jeff Dugon forever 28.

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