Lewiston City Councilor Stephanie Gelinas talking about her son’s struggle with substance use disorder on Saturday during a Rally for Recovery in Kennedy Park. She was one of many throughout the day who talked about the opioid epidemic, with many speakers also celebrating getting clean with positive messages to encourage others. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — City Councilor Stephanie Gelinas, speaking to a large crowd of people gathered in Kennedy Park on Saturday, revealed that she lost her son last year to an opioid overdose.

Her son, Kristopher, was one of more than 93,000 people to die of an overdose in the United States last year.

“My son never woke up in the morning and said, ‘Hey, I want to be an addict,'” she said. “No, he woke up every day with a tremendous amount of drive to get well, despite the intense sadness, anxiety and pain that he lived with.”

Gelinas’ powerful story was one of several told during a “Rally for Recovery” in the park, which brought together a large number of regional organizations dedicated to helping people struggling with opioid addiction.

Gelinas is also a member of the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee, which organized Saturday’s event to coincide with National Recovery Month. It also took place as Maine continues to see high numbers of overdoses and overdose deaths, as well as a shortage of the lifesaving anti-overdose drug naloxone.

Those who were there said a common theme was hope.

“I’m in awe of the message here today,” Gelinas said.

More than 250 people turned out to Saturday’s Rally for Recovery in Lewiston’s Kennedy Park. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

She said her son would have turned 30 next week, and shared insights into his struggle. She told the audience that she learned that words used to describe addiction are important and impact people’s perception of the disease.

“Choose your words wisely, they matter,” she said. “You never know what the individual situation may be with people you may be speaking with.”

The event also featured testimonials from people in recovery, including Chantal St. Laurent.

She said it was heartening to see so many people come together to support those in recovery and share resources for those still struggling. St. Laurent calls herself, “a person in long-term recovery,” and she emphasizes the use of “person.”

“I’m a mom, a human being,” St. Laurent said, stating that she’s been in recovery for roughly five years.

She said her addiction was tied to years of emotional pain and childhood trauma, but now, she said, “I get to be a member of our recovery community.”

She’s also now a substance use counselor for Recovery Connections of Maine and recent college graduate.

According to a May report released by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the University of Maine, there were 3,222 reported fatal and non-fatal drug overdoses in Maine between January and May, with 247 resulting in death. The state reported 504 drug overdose deaths in 2020.

Dozens of support groups set up tables Saturday in Kennedy Park as part of the Rally for Recovery in Lewiston. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Through June of this year, Androscoggin County had recorded 40 overdose deaths. The county saw a total of 52 in 2020.

Dottie Perham-Whittier, Lewiston community relations coordinator, estimated there were about 275 people in attendance Saturday.

“We had a great turnout, and the Lewiston Area Public Health Committee was so pleased that so many positive connections were made,” she said. “There was a genuine environment of people cheering on those in recovery and encouraging those who are struggling. The community support and resources on site were also phenomenal and attendees clearly welcomed the outreach.”

Joshua Stoehner lifts his daughter Sophia into the air Saturday in Kennedy Park in Lewiston during the Rally for Recovery. He and his wife were representing An Angel’s Wing, whose mission is to help those with substance use disorder. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal


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