Looking around a room that for the first time seemed to welcome discussions about drug abuse instead of casting shame on the topic, one Juneau mother wondered aloud if her son would be alive had something similar been available sooner.
“We’ve needed something like this for a while. This is a good start,” Misty Haffner said Saturday at the “Hope, Not Heroin” community rally inside the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.
Saturday also marked the seven-month anniversary of Haffner’s 26-year-old son’s death due to a drug overdose. She said back then, her family didn’t know where to look for help.
Inside the JACC, a different story presented itself for people seeking answers. Nearly two dozen organizations were on site to answer questions about drug abuse, including the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence; Rainforest Recovery; Gastineau Human Services; Stop Heroin, Start Talking; and medical staff from different community clinics.
The Alaska Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and the Juneau Police Department co-hosted Saturday’s event, with several officers attending in a show of support for greater police-community interrelations. Others in attendance included Gov. Bill Walker, First Lady Donna Walker and Anchorage Sen. Johnny Ellis. Ellis played an active role in introducing legislation that would make Naloxone (or Narcan), a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, available for purchase over the counter.
“I am in awe of the amount of community support we have,” JPD Chief Bryce Johnson told a room of some 50 visitors during opening remarks.
Johnson said normally when he and other officers attend events where they hope to connect with people living with addictions, they wear plainclothes to try to blend in. That wasn’t the case on Saturday.
“That’s because I would like this blue uniform to become a blue uniform of hope,” Johnson said, adding that his goal is to help more people find treatment before they find themselves in jail.
One 50-year-old Juneau mother, who wished to keep her name private, said when she heard about the hope rally she wondered if she could find help for her homeless and drug-addicted daughter in Washington. She said she wants to bring her home, where she was born and raised, but the last time she sought advice on interventions the only tip she got was “put (your daughter) in a dark room, cover her up and tell her you love her.”
After speaking with different organizations she didn’t even know existed Saturday, she now believes her daughter has a chance at coming home and at recovery. She didn’t know she could speak so openly about her daughter’s problem with people who could actually help, she said.
The rally didn’t just offer support to those battling drug addictions; there were also free medical waste containers for community members to pick up in case someone comes across a syringe in a public place and wants to dispose of it.
Ann Nielsen, a volunteer with the Stop Heroin, Stop Talking organization, said the morning before heading to the event a friend called to tell her he found a bottle of used syringes in Super Bear Supermarket’s parking lot while walking with his young child.
Nielsen said the group has hundreds of medical waste containers, purchased by the City and Borough of Juneau, to give away. For information about obtaining syringe safety kits, visit the Facebook page www.facebook.com/stopheroinstarttalking.
Drug use that involves syringes carries with it an elevated risk of spreading HIV or Hepatitis C, said registered nurse Autumn Muse with the Juneau Public Health Center. That’s why she and her colleague Claire Geldof set up a free testing center inside the JACC during the event for people to quickly and anonymously receive services.
All of these services readily available for people living with drug abuse give Haffner hope for other families going through what she suffered seven months ago with her son Brenyer. She said it makes her happy to attend events like the hope rally and see the progress that’s being made, even if it means opening an old wound for her.
“It brings it all back, being at things like this,” she said. “I’ll be crying about this for years, but this — it’s helpful.”