Education and awareness about drug abuse, addiction, and overdosing was the focus of an event in Howell yesterday.

The “United to Change” seminar was held at Cleary University and on National Overdose Awareness Day. Project Hope’s event provided information about drug disposal, how to reduce overdoses, and stories from survivors and those affected by addiction. Project Hope is a branch of Project Opiate, which offers information to help prevent and reduce the stigma regarding prescription drug abuse and opiate addiction.

One local resident who attended the conference recently began her mission to bring awareness to addiction and help individuals impacted by it. Cheryl Towery of Howell lost her daughter Elaina last month as a result of a heroin overdose. She tells WHMI the painful experience has fueled her desire to prevent and reduce such instances. Before Elaina was taken off life support and passed away, Cheryl says she promised her she would spend the rest of her life helping people who are affected by addiction. Cheryl believes providing help and awareness is the most important aspect in the war on drugs.

Thursday's event included pertinent training for law enforcement in how to recognize and handle an overdose, and a course in the use of Naloxone, which is used in emergencies to treat narcotic overdoses. Livingston County Undersheriff Jeff Warder says these forums are what will make the difference in the fight against the opiate epidemic and offered some advice to anyone battling addiction. Warder encouraged those individuals to speak up and get help. He says law enforcement wants to help people battling addiction get treatment, not lock them up. In fact, Warder says every police and law enforcement agency has bought into that philosophy.

53rd District Court Administrator and event organizer Francine Zysk says it was a powerful day, as there was frank discussion about the problem and its prevalence. She issued a final call to action to attendees before they left, encouraging them no matter what the situation is, they “can try”. (DK)