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More than 107,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2021, leaving behind countless family and friends who still feel their absence. Those lives, which have been cut short, no longer have the potential for joy, change or gratitude. However, those who are struggling with substance use have a good chance of recovery. Research indicates that one in 10 Americans has experienced drug and alcohol problems and gotten better.

Addiction recovery is as common as being left-handed. But stigma and pessimism about addiction persist and contribute to painful, and often tragic, outcomes.

“Stigma hides the success stories that happen every day in our backyard. Your neighbor may be in recovery, but you’re unlikely to know,” said Jess Williams, a recovering Pittsburg resident who advocates against the ‘stigma of addiction.

Experts point to stigma as a major barrier to help-seeking of any kind, including professional treatment, community services such as needle exchanges, or social support in general. Reluctance to seek help means someone is less likely to receive naloxone, which reverses the overdose. They are less likely to find a supportive therapist. In short, they are more likely to suffer and die.

Stigma doesn’t just affect one person. It leaves families with condemnation rather than support. It has been said that “no one brings you a pan when your child has an addiction.” Ohio Township resident John Watts lost his son, Carter, to an overdose at age 20. During the years he dealt with addiction, Carter also struggled with mental health issues, homelessness and growing physical health problems. Like his father, Watts struggled to provide help that respected Carter’s autonomy.

John Watts (left) and his son Carter while fishing. (Photo courtesy of Tony Lolli)

After many efforts to help lead Carter on the path to healing, Watts realized that “we would continue to fail if we tried to help him choose … ultimately it should be his discovery and choice.” But for Carter, Watts observed, any path to recovery was clouded by danger and inadequate support. “As a teenager and then a young adult find some kind of recovery, even if they want to, while they’re homeless, out of work, out of education, struggling with triggers and mental health, while they’re looking for food and a bathroom and a place to sleep ?while many demons of different forms pursue them?

State Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, lost his brother, Michael, to an overdose in 2014. Since then, Struzzi has been passionate about spreading a message of hope to Pennsylvanians affected by addiction.

“I understand the devastating impact drug addiction can have on people’s lives and their families,” Struzzi said. “Everyone in our society is affected, but there is hope. This is why supporting recovery is so important. People struggling with addiction need to know that others care and there is a path back to a positive and rewarding quality of life.”

Participants in the Pittsburgh Walk for Recovery. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Harder)

Struzzi is co-sponsoring a bill to legalize fentanyl test strips, which would help identify the presence of highly potent opioids in the drug supply and prevent future overdose deaths. He will speak at this year’s Pittsburgh Walk for Recovery, which will be held on September 17.

More than a year after Carter’s death in 2021, Watts described participating in the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk as a way to experience the kind of supportive, non-judgmental world she wishes Carter had lived in.


“I am volunteering and supporting the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk so that I can help, but not allow, others like my son, as I would have wanted the same support from others for Carter when there was still time for us,” she said Watts.

Several thousand participants are expected in this year’s Pittsburgh Recovery Walk, which is free and includes a large resource fair, children’s activities, speakers sharing personal stories and a 1-mile parade through downtown.

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Source: IRETA supports addiction recovery in Pittsburgh