Across the river from the pastoral splendor of Gloucester County suburbia – and seemingly light years away from a happy childhood and high-school days – lost souls gather in an abandoned factory to shoot up heroin laced with fentanyl.
And waking, they go right back to the streets of Philadelphi’s Kensington neighborhood to score another fix, to make the sickness go away. Often shunned and forgotten by their families, their lives feel hopeless.
There are just two paths ahead for these troubled human beings: One leads to recovery, and the other to the morgue.
For those struggling with addiction in the county, the first step is to call (856) 384-6885.
“They will get what they need; there will be a live person on the line,” said County Commissioner Jim Jefferson, liaison to the county Department of Health and Human Services and its Addictions Task Force. Calles get information on all the services that will help.
“We are doing a great job providing assistance for every step” on the road to recovery,” Jefferson noted. “One of those steps is to give folks an opportunity to do things while in recovery.
The Addictions Task Force held its first Recovery Bowling event at Bowlero in Deptford in early 2022. Due to its success, a second one was held last month at Bowlero in Washington Township. The free event was open to those in recovery from substance use, their families and friends.
The Department of Health and Human Services provided a resource table with a stigma-free resource guide, a 2022 holiday support brochure, dropbox information, Deterra bags and suicide prevention cards.
“Having a place to come together with other people who have walked similar paths is beyond helpful on the road to recovery and all together a nice break to relax and enjoy ourselves,” one bowling participant said. “My family and I appreciate activities like this.
“It’s nice knowing we’re supported in our own community.”
Members of the task force come from fields that include education, EMS, law enforcement and public health. The group also includes individuals in recovery, people who have lost loved ones to addiction and concerned community members.
The mission of the task force is to increase awareness of drug addiction and its effects on the community and to promote and support existing programs for prevention, treatment and recovery from addiction.
“Education is the key,” Jefferson maintained. “It is vitally important. Going out into the neighborhoods to talk about addiction issues has really been a game changer for us.”
Anyone who comes forward for help “is treated with the utmost dignity and respect,” added Jefferson, who said Health and Human Services staffers do an excellent and professional job in getting residents assistance.
Yet, there are still people struggling with addiction in every county neighborhood.
“The danger is out there,” Jefferson warned. “Fentanyl kills. There was an opioid epidemic before the COVID-19 epidemic.”
For the last seven years, the county has held an overdose awareness day, followed by a candlelight vigil for those who have died, both at Atkinson Park in Washington Township.
“It is a sobering event and painful to endure,” Jefferson said.
Partnering with Jefferson Hospital, Health and Human Services staffers hand out resource kits at the park events that include Narcan, a treatment for overdose victims. At one of the vigils, Jefferson recalled, a family came up to him and said, “We remember the one child we lost. But this child here is alive because of the Narcan we gave out.”