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As overdoses rise, Parkersburg duo works on event to help people suffering from addiction

Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 9:05 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va (WTAP) - The COVID-19 pandemic has touched everyone’s life in some way or another, but one Parkersburg man says people suffering from addiction are having an especially difficult time.

"I know ten people who have died of an overdose since this began," said Rich Walters.

Rich Walters organizes what is now called the “Parkersburg Memorial Walk,” but was formerly known as the “Walk Against Heroin.”

On top of Walters’ experience, officials say Wood County’s overdose count is on track to be higher than last year’s total.

“According to numbers I received from the 911 center, we’ve had 277 911 calls involving overdoses. Last year, for the whole year of 2019, I think we had 360. So we are on course to expand on last year’s number,” said Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens.

Walters says people with addiction need community and fellowship. He says it’s a crucial part of their recovery and the pandemic has largely taken them away.

“Different buildings have different rules and regulations. And people just aren’t willing to have people in those buildings and that’s unfortunate because fellowship is a big, big deal when it comes to addiction recovery,” said Walters.

On top of that, Walters says fear and hopelessness created around the virus has pushed people recovering from addiction to make bad decisions. He and the sheriff suspect the stimulus checks sent to millions of Americans this spring allowed many of them to make those bad decisions.

“During the month of May we had 83 in Wood County, which was up from 35 in April and if you will recall that’s when the stimulus checks were starting to get mailed out. So, I’m sure there is a correlation there between that and the stimulus checks.

Walters has teamed up with J. Morgan Leach to try to help people with addiction find some community again by putting on the Fifth Annual Parkersburg Memorial Walk. In years past, the event has drawn hundreds of people. Leach says it is legal for them to host such an event despite Governor Jim Justice’s executive order limiting the size of certain gatherings.

"Now the governor's office did amend that stay at home order to allow for more broader gatherings that are not purely social in nature." said Leach. " does have that higher purpose. There are more things going on than just a social aspect. We're literally trying to reach out to people who are overdosing or committing suicide at a higher rate than they would have been because of the isolationist nature of this pandemic." said Leach.

Organizers hope the event will be something positive in a world they say is full of negativity.

"This will be a good day, where people can join each other in brotherly and harmonious love and just you know, come to a time of healing and come to a time to understand that hey, this too shall pass. Please hang on. There are resources. There are still people out here that are willing to listen to you. There are still people here that will answer the call. Whatever the case may be. But let's just come together man and lift people's spirits," said Walters.

Even though Leach says the event does not fall under a “social gathering,” he is still encouraging attendees to follow a few coronavirus precautions.

“We are advertising needs to be wearing facial coverings, they need to be maintaining a six foot distance. The nice thing about doing this at the park, at the band shell, is that we have a lot of open space. So, that does lend well for us to be able to have a gathering for this group and still be able to maintain safe guidelines,” said Leach.

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