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Message of hope touted in walk for addiction recovery

Chuck Biedka
| Monday, July 25, 2016, 10:48 a.m.
Marchers proceed down First Avenue in Tarentum during the Qwinn's Walk for HOPE from the Brackenridge gazebo to the Tarentum pavilion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Marchers proceed down First Avenue in Tarentum during the Qwinn's Walk for HOPE from the Brackenridge gazebo to the Tarentum pavilion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Qwinn's mother, Melissa Vrotney, holds the 'H' as she helps lead the march down First Avenue in Brackenridge during the Qwinn's Walk for HOPE from the Brackenridge gazebo to the Tarentum pavilion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.
Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Qwinn's mother, Melissa Vrotney, holds the 'H' as she helps lead the march down First Avenue in Brackenridge during the Qwinn's Walk for HOPE from the Brackenridge gazebo to the Tarentum pavilion on Saturday, July 23, 2016.

Long-term recovering drug addicts on Saturday said they are living proof that sobriety is attainable even though the heroin epidemic and other drugs are killing every day.

Their positive words of hope, faith and drug education brought cheers from hundreds of people at an anti-drug rally in Tarentum Saturday evening.

Each of the messages eloquently gave purpose to Qwinn's Walk for HOPE — named for 24-year-old Qwinn Ballard, who died April 26 from opiate pill misuse.

More than 300 people endured 90-plus-degree heat and humidity to walk briskly from the Brackenridge gazebo to Tarentum pavilion, where at least 150 people were waiting to learn how they can help.

Most wore orange T-shirts with the word HOPE in white. HOPE stands for Help Overdose Prevention with Education. Like many other speakers, Tarentum Mayor Carl Magnetta urged the men, women and children to make Saturday's walk an inaugural event, a beginning, not an end, and he reminded people about the power of prayer.

Two of the many speakers called for an organized response.

VonZell Wade, a former New Kensington cocaine addict and dealer in the 1980s and early 1990s, went to jail before turning his life around. He uses his doctoral degree in counseling to run Lost Dreams Awakening, a nonprofit addiction counseling center he operates in New Kensington with his wife, Laurie. He has been a counselor for more than 20 years.

“We have to unite as a community to fight back against the epidemic. The most powerful tool we have is prayer,” Wade said. “Drug addiction doesn't discriminate. Red, yellow, black, white and brown. We all have to come together. And the miracle is we do recover,” he said about what he hopes can be the rule rather than the exception.

“People need to see that recovery works,” he said.

Adrienne Smith of Tarentum, an anti-drug advocate for Message Carriers, once was an addict and dealer but has been clean more than five years.

“When you're in addiction, you think recovery is impossible,” she said.

Smith went to court and then to rehab.

“It's not very easy, and you don't do it alone. I want to thank Tarentum police, court officials, drug court and many others,” she said. “We need to keep working together to get things done.”

Never give up and never keep quiet, urged Carmen Capozzi, an Irwin area father who founded Sage's Army after his son died from opiates.

“Silence kills,” said the man whose group successfully lobbied for wider access to Narcan.

The Rev. Nick Chybrzynzki of Generations House of Worship at Harrison, whose brother died from drugs almost 10 years ago, said addiction is touching most families but many still won't publicly talk about it. It's time to pray and get involved, he said.

“What we fear or hide, we cannot defeat. And what we tolerate, we cannot change. We need to quit being embarrassed,” he said. “Addiction won't go away by simply wishing it away.”

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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