Cecil County is a 418 square miles of small rural towns that have share the big city problems of untreated addiction and mental health disorders. For the past few years, this county and 103,000 people has outpaced all other Maryland counties with the rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 people, following only Baltimore City. This county is proud of being the head of the Chesapeake Bay, it’s steeplechase horse racing in Fair Hill and generations of farming families. Picturesque towns like North East and Chesapeake City attract tourists that enjoy the country life and fresh water recreation. Cecil communities rally around their first responders and law enforcement officers and raise funds for cancer and other causes. Few groups or agencies stand up for recovery, despite the evidence that most families have been affected by the opioid epidemic. Now a High School Senior, Mikayla has been Miss Fire Prevention in her small Cecil town for the past 2 years. Her mother and brother worked for the fire company that their family have lived in for decades. Theirs is a family of pride and service for the local community. However, like most, their family and friends have been negatively affected by addiction, losing loved ones to overdose. Mikayla felt more could be done in the community to address this issue, with adults and with youth, especially because it was affecting almost everyone she knew. In 2019, Mikayla accepted the opportunity to educate the community about the risks and the help that is available as Voices of Hope’s Miss Overdose Prevention. To do this, she set down her crown as Miss Fire Prevention. She now serves as an ambassador of recovery at local events that families and youth attend.
Her message is that overdose can happen to anyone and Narcan should be a part of every home’s First Aid Kit. When she dons her crown and sash, she normalizes the experience that many children are having: they are worried about their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that are struggling with addiction or have already died from overdose. Mikayla knows that the language and message has to be appropriate for children and the general public. Fire prevention and overdose prevention can be equally horrific when stories of pain and death are used as motivating learning experiences. Mikayla has found that keeping the focus on how to identify an overdose and how to reverse the effect has been received as well as can be hoped.
Voices of Hope, Inc. is a grassroots nonprofit that is operated by people in recovery whose mission is to advocate for recovery resources and protect the dignity of families who struggle with addiction. Jennifer Tuerke, Executive Director of Voices of Hope, explains. “We often have minors come to Voices of Hope staff and volunteers asking for Narcan and training because they are worried about their parents. How can we turn them away just because of their age? We empower these kids to know they have the tools if the worst should happen, allowing some of them to sleep at night.” She added, “Miss Overdose Prevention normalizes the experience many of our children and families are having. I truly believe that family members will take the Narcan home and save the life of someone they love.” This initiative, along with Maryland Certified Peer Recovery Specialist training and credentialing support for youth, is part of Voices of Hope efforts to reach young people and prevent overdose deaths.
Mikayla is aware that, as Miss Overdose Prevention, the stigma of addiction has been heaped upon her like so many others. Despite her age, posts with her picture have been shared in local groups with disparaging comments and ridicule. She holds her head high, believing that saving a life will be worth it. Mikayla is proud of the members of her family and friends who have found recovery. She cares about her friends that are losing themselves in addiction, following the footsteps of their family members. Mikayla is currently on the pathway to become a Maryland Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, entering the health care profession and helping others to find recovery for themselves.
To schedule an appearance of Miss Overdose Prevention at your family-friendly event, email firstname.lastname@example.org of call (443)993-7055.