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Remembering loved ones, supporting families and tearing away the stigma of drug abuse

by Judith Hruz


It is arguably one of the saddest events in Montgomery County that somehow remains hopeful at its core.

The annual Ceremony of Remembrance, organized by S.O.U.L. (Surviving Our Ultimate Loss), a peer support group comprised of mothers and their families who have lost a child to substance use, draws hundreds of people who want to remember those who lost their lives to opioid addiction and support their parents and families

The sixth annual event was held on Aug. 26 to mark International Overdose Awareness Day — official held Aug. 31 — at Montgomery County Memorial Plaza between the Circuit Courthouse and Executive Office Building in downtown Rockville.

More and more people attend each year — an unfortunate statistic.

Henry and Wendy Winter of Olney attended — part of that unfortunate statistic.

Their son, Seth, who had a mischievous smile, a loud laugh, a willingness to surround others with big bear hugs, died of an accidental fentanyl overdose on April 29, 2020, just two months before his 21st birthday.

Seth struggled in school with ADHD, depression and anxiety, and the disease of addiction, his parents said.

To honor his memory and give young adults the opportunities that Seth should have had, the Winter family has created The Seth J. Winter Memorial Foundation (www.sethjwintermemorialfoundation.org), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

The mission of the foundation is to award scholarships (approximately $500 per recipient) to young adults in recovery that have completed a drug rehab program, are working on their 12-step program and attending either college/vocational school or a certification program.

The Winters know that addiction effects every family, no matter the background, religion or socio-economic level.

They also know there is still a stigma attached to drug abuse.

Montgomery County Judge Marielsa Bernard is a founding member of S.O.U.L.

She lost her 27-year-old daughter, Kate, on Dec. 4, 2014.

“This is not the way life is supposed to go,” she said during the fourth annual Overdose and Prevention Vigil on Aug. 29, 2019.

Bernard had said part of her mission, and S.O.U.L.’s mission, is to erase the stigma attached to people who are dependent on drugs.

“I am not ashamed,” she said, referring to her daughter’s death to an overdose.

Instead, she wants to help everyone understand that “addiction is a brain disease.”

Her beautiful, sensitive, “firecracker” daughter, she said, had a “strong genetic pre-disposition” to addiction. That was coupled with mental health issues, including anxiety.

There were times, Bernard said, that her daughter would tell her “that her brain didn’t work.”

Her daughter could not get the mental health treatment she needed, Bernard said.

Wendy and Henry have learned that drug use might be a side effect of mental health issues, but it is also a physical health issue.

“It changes pathways in their brains, making in nearly impossible to stop,” Wendy Winter said.

She said her advice to those with drug addiction: “I would encourage people to get professional help.”

Wendy Winter said S.O.U.L. has been one of her best support systems since Seth passed away.

“Being a member of S.O.U.L. this past year has been really powerful,” she said.

Henry Winter has drawn support from Brothers in Grief and Healing.

International Overdose Awareness Day started in Australia in 2001 and in the intervening 20 years has been billed as the world’s largest campaign to end overdose, remember without stigma those who have died, and acknowledge the grief of family and friends left behind.

According to Montgomery County, since 2016, more than 60 percent of overdose fatalities in the county have been related to fentanyl.

The opioid epidemic and the disease of substance use disorder have been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the county reported. In Montgomery County, opioid overdose deaths increased by 29 percent in 2020 from the previous year.


    S.O.U.L. and its partners — Montgomery and Frederick county governments, the cities of Frederick and Rockville, Montgomery County Collaboration Council, Frederick County Health Department, Frederick Health Hospice and the Adult Drug Courts of both Montgomery County and Frederick County Circuit Courts — initiated public outdoor commemorative photo displays in Rockville and Frederick. The displays will continue through Sept. 30.

    Rockville’s Mayor and Council proclaimed September as National Recovery Month. Lights at City Hall, Rockville City Police Department headquarters, and other city and county facilities are shining purple throughout the month. The city will hold events in September as part of “Rockville Goes Purple,” its campaign to highlight the nationwide impact and dangers of opioid addiction. A virtual WebEx will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 18 to discuss the HBO documentary, “The Crime of the Century,” with guest Jonathan Novak, a former DEA attorney who took part in the documentary. For more, visit www.rockvillemd.gov/rockvillegoespurple.

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