The Recovery Walk ended at the First Baptist Church in Bennington, where a tree was planted to honor those hurt by addiction.

By Emily Gabert , Special to the Banner

BENNINGTON — Beating the opioid epidemic will require the stigma around addiction be lifted, says those who've seen loved ones struggle with addiction or dealt with it themselves. To do this, people need to work together to bring addiction out of the darkness and into the light, said Geri Gilmore, a member of Manchester's chapter of "Fed Up," a group seeking a federal response to the increase in opioid addiction across the country. 

"By educating the public, refuting denial, and fostering every ounce of compassion from every heart that we can touch together, we can find solutions to this crisis," Gilmore said, to a crowd gathered at the First Baptist Church in Bennington. She considers herself to be a witness of substance abuse disorder as she has had loved ones' struggle with the condition. 

Her remarks followed the fourth annual Recovery Walk, held Saturday in Bennington and hosted by the Turning Point Center. The walk takes place in September to coincide with National Recovery Month.

Ken Sigsbury, executive director of the Turning Point Center — Who has also been appointed to the Governor's Opiate Coordination Council — estimated that Saturday's event had the largest turnout yet, involving about 100 people.

Walkers clapped and cheered as they went down Pleasant Street decked out in bright orange shirts, carrying signs bearing messages of hope and love. The walk ended at the First Baptist Church where those involved planted a tree to honor the lives lost to addiction, to honor those in or seeking recovery, and to honor the family members affected by addiction. Following that, there was a reception with several guest speakers.

Some of the speakers chose not to offer their surnames. The Banner has decided to honor that. 

"Ghandi said, `the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members,'" Gilmore said. "The stigma and shame inflicted on those who suffer from this disease, shows how far we fall short for this measure of society."

"Gretchen," a member of Fed Up, encouraged others to contact local representatives to help with the battle against addiction. Another effort the group is working toward is getting the United States Food and Drug Administration to address marketing techniques used by opioid manufacturers. They also want to implement the National Academy of Sciences recommended changes to opioid policies.

"We together have the stronger voice and we need everybody to come together and listen up," Gretchen said. "We are tired, we're exhausted, but we are putting our plan into action. I don't want another family to ever hear the words `there is no room for you, there's no bed available, go home and treat this like it's the flu."

"If you have diabetes, if you have heart disease, you can get help," Gretchen said. "If you're an addict they say, `go home.'"

She said her and three other members of Fed Up had to go outside of Vermont to have their loved ones get help because of the limited amount of space that local organizations have for recovering addicts.

House Rep. Mary Morrissey, R-Bennington, said that more beds have been made available for those wishing to seek recovery. Local legislators met with Turning Point earlier this year to discuss helping addicts and those who are recovering. One of the main needs is available beds in treatment facilities. An opportunity to enter recovery is lost whenever someone is turned away for lack of space. 

"From this discussion, real time initiatives were put in place with state officials and local partners. Turning Point lead the charge on this issue and we are not being told that the wait list has been improved and in some cases are gone," Morrissey said. "Just this week, the governor, attorney general, and others announced that the wait list in all six Vermont opiate hubs have been eliminated."

In July, the National Control Policy director said that Vermont has made the most strides in expanding efforts to help more people seek treatment than any other states, she said.

"That is good news, however, we know that we need to do better and much more," Morrissey said. "Especially as new challenges present themselves. Our state and local law enforcement and courts are working with the health system to get individuals into recovery treatment, and our focus is on prosecuting our dealers to the fullest extent of the law."

Since addiction is not a "one size fits all" issue, she said that doors will need to be made open for better treatment.

"We have also made progress with protocols for prescribing opioids for pain management with the medical community," Morrissey said. "But we need to do more."

Sigsbury reminded everyone that Turning Point has resources available for people facing any kind of addiction, and that they also help family members who are impacted by the disease as well. To learn more about the Turning Point Center of Bennington County, visit  or on Facebook at,  

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