More than 2,500 participants attended the 2019 “Run Drugs Out of Town” walk/run at Fraser High School June 15.

More than 2,500 participants attended the 2019 “Run Drugs Out of Town” walk/run at Fraser High School June 15.

Photo by Erin Sanchez


Stigma of addiction on display during record-breaking Fraser event

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published June 24, 2019

 Balloons are released to commemorate lives lost and those in recovery, and to advocate for the Hope Not Handcuffs rehabilitation program.

Balloons are released to commemorate lives lost and those in recovery, and to advocate for the Hope Not Handcuffs rehabilitation program.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

 Following words from speakers, walkers and runners took off from the high school track toward Garfield Road.

Following words from speakers, walkers and runners took off from the high school track toward Garfield Road.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Advertisement

FRASER — Not a day goes by when Vicki Gistinger doesn’t think about her niece, Jacklin.

Gistinger, of Chesterfield Township, got emotional June 15 at the 11th annual “Run Drugs Out of Town” walk/run at Fraser High School. A crowd of about 2,544 participants showed on the cloudy and blustery day, making it the largest in the event’s history.

In addition to the record participation, there were 63 sponsors, 125 teams, 29 exhibitors, 18 food and drink vendors, and 300-plus volunteers. About $36,208 was raised via individual and team fundraising, and more than $155,000 was raised in total.

Families Against Narcotics puts on the event, its biggest fundraiser. All proceeds go toward substance misuse education, recovery efforts and spreading awareness.

Since Jacklin passed away in 2013, Gistinger and her family have not missed this event. She said that when the family of one person with addiction meets the family of another, it becomes a type of surreal bonding experience.

Tents are filled with individuals in T-shirts with photos of loved ones. Signs are erected everywhere to show the community of lives gone much too soon.

“I’m here to help fight the fight to see why people are even doing the drug,” Gistinger said. “If we can just save one life, that’s what matters. Lives matter, and this addiction problem is out of hand.”

Sometimes, all people have left of their loved ones are the memories.

“I miss her laughter. I miss talking to her on the phone every day,” Gistinger said of her niece. “I miss her watching TV with me. I miss telling her what I did today.”

Lisa McGraw was there to support others, as well as to help run the Nar-Anon booth — which offers a 12-step program for friends and family of people with addiction. It helps to encourage people to work on themselves and find the role that illness plays in the psyche of their loved ones, she said.

Asked why she attends every year, she said there’s a sense of hope that comes with making people more knowledgeable on the subject.

“The awareness of this has been raised so much and, unfortunately, because so many have passed because of it,” McGraw said. “I think that’s really gotten the whole community more involved.”

FAN Executive Director Linda Davis said that every participant adds to helping one person with addiction get into sober living. She said the rising attendance is an outward representation of the impact that addiction has had on the surrounding community. It also shows what is possible when individuals are not judged.

Attendees once again released balloons to commemorate lives lost and lives being helped. Orange balloons represented those who are in recovery from addiction, blue balloons represented lives being impacted by the growing Hope Not Handcuffs program, and green balloons commemorated lives lost to addiction.

David Winowiecki, a Fraser resident and City Council member, recalled attending the first event. There were fewer than 200 people that day.

He was there because his son, who is now in long-term recovery, was facing his own tribulations. Now, he said, it’s “insane” how many people are receiving help and treatment statewide due to programs like FAN, Hope Not Handcuffs and a more receptive public.

As he described, “Every idea spawns another idea that spawns another idea.”

“To see the stigma go away and more awareness, a lot of people say it’s really sad because it keeps growing and it shouldn’t have to grow like this,” Winowiecki said. “But it’s more awareness. There’s more addicts getting recovery and going into recovery. It’s a really warm feeling for me. To be here in the beginning and to see it get like this is just amazing.”

Detroit Red Wings play-by-play announcer Ken Daniels was present. He talked about his son, Jaime, who died Dec. 7, 2016, at age 23 after his own battle.

“Addicts don’t want to be addicts,” Daniels said. “I don’t know what the face of addiction is. Nobody does. You couldn’t tell. But all of us here today, we are the face of addiction because we’re giving addiction a voice. We’re giving those we have lost a voice. We’re keeping their memories alive.

“We need to continue the conversation because mental illness — the brain has changed,” he continued. “Addiction is a mental illness. No judgment. Empathy. Empathy is the sincerest form of knowledge. Keep the conversation going, please. Keep talking about it. What we’re doing today goes a long way.”

Advertisement