Walking the walk against drug abuse in Lynn

The inaugural Lynners Against Drug Abuse Walk sets off from High Rock Tower in Lynn on Saturday. (Spencer Hasak)

LYNN — At the first annual Lynners Against Drug Abuse Walk on Saturday local and state officials offered a message of hope for those struggling with addiction.

The walk, organized by School Committee Member Lennin “Lenny” Pea, sought to bring awareness to the sobriety resources available in the citynand be a healing space for those affected by addiction.

Peña said that he is concerned by the rates of drug abuse, especially as a parent of young children.

“We are losing generations [to] the disease of drug addiction,” he said. “Last year, more people died from overdoses than gun violence or any kind of violence combined.”

“As someone who grew up in the city of Lynn, I am a firm believer that when you give people the proper support and the right tools and the right connections, they can become productive and responsible people of society– like myself,” Peña continued .

The walk also seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction, he said.

“I have friends that are attorneys, doctors, lawyers who once made a bad choice, but we can recover… we can become members of society and give back,” Pea said.

The event began at High Rock Park, where organizers handed out water bottles and shirts that read “Say No to Drugs.” The group of about 30 then descended down the hill where Pea and Frances Martinez of the North Shore Latino Business Association addressed the crowd.

After a ribbon cutting, the group walked through Lynn to the Demakes YMCA, where the crowd grew as food was served and a DJ played music..

Representatives from the Lynn Department of Public Health, Narcotics Anonymous, and Steps 2 Solutions among other organizations handed out pamphlets and flyers outside the YMCA, informing people of opportunities to give or receive support.

Later, Mayor Jared Nicholson praised the work of Pea and supporters for their devotion to helping Lynn residents.

“This is the kind of issue we all need to work together in order to be able to make progress,” Nicholson said. “We want to be there for people who are struggling, we want to be there for people who are supporting people who are struggling, we want to be there for people who are dealing with the aftermath of those struggles. We want to be there before the issue comes in prevention, in the schools, in our curriculum– and we want to be there the entire time.”

When Peña called Police Chief Christopher Reddy to the stage, he reminisced about the times when he would run from the police while he was battling addiction.

“I can tell you right now, I don’t run from Chief Reddy no more, I run to him,” Pea said.

Vernetta Sharpe, a community mentor and recovering addict, led the group in a moment of silence to grieve the lives lost to addiction. Born in New Jersey, she said that after moving to Lynn for recovery, she found the support she needed in the community.

“I came to Lynn for recovery, and I haven’t turned back yet. This is now my home.”

Sharpe said that making people aware of the resources available to them is crucial.

“The stigma can prevent us from fighting for what we need to fight for, and that is programs, halfway houses, different resources for the recovering addict– for the addict to get clean and stay clean. Getting clean is easy, staying clean– that is the battle,” she said.

“We will fight as long as we can for those who are suffering mental illness, for our veterans, for those that are suffering with this disease that don’t know there is a way out…. When we talk about ‘once an addict, always an addict,’ the lie is dead! We do recover!,” Sharpe continued.

Sharpe was one of two people who were awarded citations from the Massachusetts State Senate for their work helping people in recovery along with Ozzy Ruiz, who is also in recovery and works to help residents with their sobriety.

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