Woman who survived crack cocaine aims to help opioid abusers with walk on mall – new haven register level 3 data recovery

Johnson suffers from co-occurring disorders – a label given to those who suffer from mental illness and abuse drugs or alcohol. Nearly 8 million adults in the United States have co-occurring disorders, according to 2014 data from the Department of Health and Human Services.

"If you have co-occurring disorders, it’s not the one thing, so you have an uphill journey and it’s not a one-size-fits-all recovery," Johnson said. "When you’re addicted, you’re hiding. You’re hiding behind a mask, you’re hiding behind the drugs to mask the pain. Once I could actually figure out who I was, the real healing began."

Crack hit the District in the mid-1980s, bringing a deluge of cheap and powerful drugs. Smoking the small, rocklike drug gives users an intense rush, a euphoric high, but it doesn’t last long.

Crack users return again, and again, desperate for more.

"The conversation around crack cocaine was about violence, murder, escalating crime, the quote-unquote ghetto lifestyle, people of color, and especially black people in urban areas, and that’s obviously a huge contrast to how the opioid epidemic has been addressed and how it’s played out. It’s pretty clearly racist," said Kaitlyn Boecker, policy manager at the Drug Alliance Network. "When crack was in the news, there wasn’t a lot of sympathy or empathy. Now, what we’re seeing is an outpouring of sympathy and empathy for the opioid user."

"I’m there to remind them, ‘You didn’t get the first epidemic right, so what have y’all learned?’ " Johnson said. "Talk to survivors. Talk to the folks who lived through the crack cocaine epidemic. We are survivors: We have some experience and some solutions that can help."

In 1988, nearly 2,300 people died from cocaine overdoses, according to federal data. In 2016, opioids – including prescription drugs, heroin and fentanyl – killed more than 42,000 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Obviously every drug has different effects and a different pattern in how it affects your life. But being stigmatized for your drug use is a pretty universal experience. Being criminalized for your drug use is a pretty universal experience," she said. "Being able to relate to how other people treat you, how your family treats you, how you’ve dealt with it all – that’s important."

As of Thursday, about 200 people had registered to participate in the 2.7-mile walk, which begins at 9 a.m. near the National Museum of African American History and Culture and is meant to memorialize those who have died from substance abuse. A health fair will follow at noon, featuring more than 30 public health groups, recovery services, emergency response teams and police organizations.

"I’m not ashamed of my past or where I’ve been. Sometimes you have to go through that to get to the next level, to get to the point where you can turn around and help other folks," Johnson said. "And now, look around. Here we go again with another drug epidemic. If my story can help someone else, if our experiences can help even one person, then everything we went through wasn’t in vain."