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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Walk for Recovery lends aid Saturday on Boardwalk in OC

By Greg Ellison

(Sept. 9, 2021) Raising funding to support recovery and destigmatizing the disease of addiction are the goals for the 2021 Walk for Recovery slated for the Boardwalk in Ocean City on Saturday starting at 9 a.m.

The annual event coincides with National Recovery Month during September and is being produced through a partnership of area nonprofits The Atlantic Club and Worcester Goes Purple/Warriors Against Addiction.

Registration costs $25 per individual for the in-person event or virtually any time before Sept. 12.

For online registration and additional information visit

Debbie Smullen, who works with Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services and also founded Worcester Goes Purple, said community support is vital to aid individuals battling addiction.

“Our Walk for Recovery on the Boardwalk is done annually in September to bring people together to raise funding to help people in recovery,” she said. “Everybody has to be in it together to be able to help.”

Smullen said health restrictions imposed because of the covid-19 pandemic added a layer of difficulty for people overcoming addictions to maintain routines.

“People go to their meetings, they go to the gym and have a certain routine of things that they do,” she said. “Once that stopped dead, they weren’t able to rely on that socialization.”

Sharing with peers’ stories of past and current struggles is a crucial element for anyone charting a path to sobriety.

Of particular concern, post-pandemic overdoses have spiked in the region.

“In Worcester County we did have a 71 percent increase in overdose deaths last year,” she said.

Although a portion of drug-related fatalities were not area residents, the uptick is significant.

“They are still people that did come here to Worcester County and died here from an overdose,” she said.

Help from family, friends and neighbors is a key ingredient of overcoming addiction.

“One of the hard things for people is the stigma,” she said.

One of the more common misperceptions is that addiction is a choice.

“It really is a disease and people need help,” she said. “Just like we would help anyone else if they were diabetic or had a heart condition, we need to look at people in the same way that they didn’t wake up this morning and say, ‘Hey, I want to be an addict.’”

Shattering stereotypes is another goal of raising awareness of recovery pathways.

“As far as who suffers from addiction, it crosses all levels of society,” she said. “There are people that are functioning addicts that you would never think of.”

After starting Worcester Goes Purple three years ago to educate the community about addiction, Smullen more recently joined it with a comparable area group.

“I merged and took over the Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction, which was started about six years ago by two moms,” she said.

Worcester County Warriors was launched in April 2016 by Jackie Ball and Heidi McNeeley.

Smullen said Ball and McNeeley handed over the reins to invest their energy in other charitable directions.

“Those two organizations are now helping people with all types of addictions,” she said.

Besides opioids, the joint nonprofits also lend assistance to alcoholics or gambling addicts.

“It’s any type of addiction that we can help,” she said.

Smullen said the groups have jumped on board with the Atlantic Club the last several years for the Boardwalk fundraiser in September.

“The Atlantic Club is a 24/7 facility in West Ocean City,” she said.

In addition to outpatient counseling, the Atlantic Club, located at 11827 Ocean Gateway, also sponsors Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings.

“Anytime that anyone wants to go in there for support [or] needs help getting to treatment, there are always resources available,” she said.

Funding garnered through the Walk for Recovery also backs the Atlantic Club’s scholarship initiative.

“They give out college scholarships to people who have been affected by addiction in their family life,” she said.

Smullen said the nonprofits also lend financial backing to Hope4Recovery, which opened on Old Ocean City Boulevard in Oct. 2018 to house male addicts transitioning to sobriety.

Along with engaging the community to prevent substance abuse, Smullen said reducing overdose fatalities is another objective.

“We’re doing Narcan training and giving away the Narcan for free,” she said.

Providing a means to save people on the brink of death from illegal drugs seems controversial to some.

“That’s another thing with that stigma [because] some people say they chose to take the drug,” she said. “The bottom line is if you had a chance to save somebody’s life, would you do it?”

Smullen said with roughly one in four people touched by addiction, participants in this week’s walk will come from varying camps.

“People walk sometimes in teams [or] for a family member they’ve lost,” she said. “We have people that walk that are in recovery themselves.”

The goal is consciousness raising .

“Recovery is possible,” she said. “Someone who is in recovery is just the same as you and me, it’s just they have a different disease.”