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Substance abuse recovery celebrated

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Herald photo/Sean P. Ray

Recovery Service Navigator John Hartnett, standing at the Scheide Park gazebo, shares his story of dealing with substance abuse at Recovery Day in Titusville on Friday. The event drew many local organizations to promote awareness about addiction and how people can overcome it.


The road to recovery for many people who suffer from substance abuse addiction can often be long and arduous. Several local organizations gathered in Scheide Park Friday to celebrate those who have beaten their addictions, while also encouraging those trekking the path to healthiness now.

Recovery Day in Titusville made a comeback after a hiatus last year. This was the second iteration of the annual event, which brought together former substance abusers and health advocates alike to draw the public’s attention to the dangers of addiction and how people can pull themselves out of it. Recovery Day is part of the wider Recovery Month, an initiative by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

According to Rick Orlowski, director of the drug and alcohol program for Family Services and Children Aid Society, one of the primary purposes of Recovery Day is to break down the stereotypes associated with substance abuse.

“The stigma of addiction is that people don’t get better,” Orlowski said.

Throughout the day, many people who formerly suffered from addiction shared stories about how they recovered, as well as the difficulties they faced along the way. One among them was John Hartnett, who now works for the Meadville Medic al Center as a recovery service navigator dedicated to helping people who suffer from the same issues he once did.

“I pretty well threw a wrench into my life,” Hartnett said of his addiction.

During that period of his life, Hartnett said he didn’t care what he put into his body, taking in all kinds of substances. He also said addiction has become much worse in modern day with the rise of substances like fentanyl, which people often take without really knowing what it is.

While opioids remain a prevalent threat for many suffering from substance abuse disorders, Orlowski said other drugs are on the rise.

“As far as the opioid epidemic, that is actually declining,” he said. “The big thing these days is meth.”

Trish Dilbone, a drug and alcohol counselor with FSCAS, said that patterns of widespread substance abuse move in cycles. As one kind of drug decreases in prevalence, others take their place.

Dilbone, who has been in recovery for 23 years, said there can be many causes that lead a person into addiction.

“They might have gotten hooked up with the wrong people,” she said. “They might not realize there is addiction in their family.”

One such common source, according to Dilbone, is childhood trauma. Experiences that take place in a person’s younger years can have a lasting impact on their lives for decades.

In recognition of the importance of Recovery Day, Crawford County Commissioner Chairman Francis Weiderspahn visited the event. Standing in the Scheide Park gazebo, he read a proclamation from all three commissioners supporting Recovery Day.

“Now, therefore, be it proclaimed, that Crawford County through the Board of Commissioners, do hereby proclaim the month of September 2019 as National Recovery Month in Titusville and call upon the people of Titusville to observe this month with appropriate programs, activities and ceremonies to support this year’s Recovery Month theme, ‘Together we are strong,’” Weiderspahn read from the document.

Weiderspahn told The Herald that he thought it was important to encourage people in the recovery process, as well as promote the many different programs and groups there to help them along the way.

“What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for the next,” he said.

Indeed, Recovery Day attracted a multitude of different organizations, who each took part in the festivities in their own manner.

The Northwest Pennsylvania Tobacco Control Program sought to bring attention to the harm caused by smoking by way of disgust. The group’s booth had a jar containing a year’s of smoking worth of tar, while another had black phlegm that a smoker might cough up.

“It grosses people out and makes them think about what they put in their body and maybe gives them a motive to quiet,” said Paula DiGregory, the NPTCP tobacco programs coordinator for Crawford and Venango counties.

Vernon Hilyer, a Clarion resident, brought special goggles that simulate the feeling of being drunk. Those who attended his booth were challenged to perform various basic tasks, such as matching shapes or counting coins, while wearing the goggles, usually making it much more difficult.

While the games brought on many laughs from those who participated, Hilyer was there for a very serious reason. His son, Brandon, died in a drunk driving accident in 2008, and he has since dedicated himself to promoting awareness about driving intoxicated through his organization, Brandon’s Dad.

“In my world, the important part is if I get one person to understand what alcohol is doing to them and the risk they are taking when they drink and drove — that’s the importance to me,” Hilyer said.

Another group who took part in Recovery Day was Titusville Women’s Services. According to Tiffany Cubbon, advocate counselor and education specialist with Women’s Services, substance abuse can lead a person to make poor safety choices and cause traumatic events to occur.

“Sometimes substance abuse can correlate to sexual assault,” Cubbon said. She also pointed to domestic violence as a situation that often involves alcohol

The local Celebrate Recovery group, a national organization that uses religion to help people combat addiction, was also present.

“We not only deal with drug and alcohol addiction, but we also deal with any other life-inhibiting condition,” said Debbie Peterson, a meeting facilitator with the group.

Celebrate Recovery meets multiple times each week, with different meeting groups gathering at various churches in the area, including in Oil City and Seneca. In Titusville, Celebrate Recovery meets every Sunday at 6 p.m. at the New Life Care Center.

More Recovery Day observations are planned throughout the rest of the month. Meadville will hold its Recovery Day this coming Friday, while Franklin will have its version of the event on Sept. 20.

Ray can be reached, by email, at

1 image

Herald photo/Sean P. Ray

Recovery Service Navigator John Hartnett, standing at the Scheide Park gazebo, shares his story of dealing with substance abuse at Recovery Day in Titusville on Friday. The event drew many local organizations to promote awareness about addiction and how people can overcome it.