A refuge amid dramatic rise in overdose deaths

Overdose deaths in Pennsylvania rose dramatically last year as part of a troubling national trend.

“It is a reminder to people in recovery and those who support them that no one is alone on their recovery journey,” said Jennifer Smith, Secretary of State for Drug and Alcohol Programs.

Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 5,200 overdose deaths were reported in Pennsylvania last year, she said. That’s an increase of about 16%.

This week, Smith visited the York branch of the Recovery Advocacy Service Empowerment Project, a non-profit organization that helps those recovering from substance abuse disorders.

The program is at the forefront of the fight against addiction.

“There is hope and you can make it happen,” said Angel Fiore-Torres, its COO. “It’s not always a straight path that leads us there, but we are getting there.”

Angel Fiore-Torres, COO of Project RASE, talks about his recovery experience at a press conference Wednesday.  Left to right: Colin Suber, RASE Project Supervisor, Pennsylvania Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Jennifer Smith, Fiore-Torres, Representative Carol Hill-Evans and Deputy Administrator of the Commission on York Drugs and Alcohol / Adams, Billie Kile.

The people at Project RASE are witnessing recovery in action every day, Smith said. “They are living proof that with the right treatment, the right resources or the right supports, living your best life while recovering is not only possible, it is probable.”

National Recovery Month celebrates the lives of those recovering from substance abuse disorders through an evidence-based stigma reduction campaign.

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Two members of the RASE project – themselves in recovery – spoke about their experiences with addiction and recovery.

Fiore-Torres said her story is not unique, but there is hope for those struggling with drug addiction. She started using alcohol at age 13 and her disease progressed until she started using opioids and heroin. This culminated in a robbery charge in her twenties, for which she spent more than two years in a county jail.

“This life is not for you,” Fiore-Torres recalled of a judge telling him. “You have to find another way to live.”

After moving, Fiore-Torres lived in a convalescent home, where she had checks and balances, such as having to do household chores or having a full-time job.

“With all of this pressure, I started to learn a new way of life,” she said.

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RASE project supervisor Colin Suber believes there is no lost cause. He too went through a recovery program.

“There was no point in my childhood or my teenage years where I was saying ‘I want to be addicted to heroin, I want to be an alcoholic and let’s try this for the next decade,'” he said. “It amazes me that in 2021, I still see debates about whether it is a disease or not.”

Over the course of his career, Suber has said he tries to be the type of support he needs when trying to get sober.

“When all is said and done, if I could help even one person, it was worth it.”

For more information on what DDAP is doing for National Recovery Month, visit the ministry’s website. website. To find drug and alcohol treatment, call 1-800-622-HELP (4357). For more information on the RASE project, visit the project website website. For the York / Adams Drug and Alcohol Commission, visit website.

Matt Enright can be contacted by email at menright@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright.

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