Zach Wirth is no stranger to the scene.
The 25-year-old was once a promising rapper, playing clubs in New York City and making a name for himself.
But when he took the stage on a Saturday afternoon at Veterans Park in Flagler Beach, it was the first time he had performed in over a year. And the first time he played sober.
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Wirth and his booming music career took a detour in 2020 that ultimately brought him to Palm Coast.
âI started drinking too much,â he said. “And that has become more important to me.”
It took a while for Wirth to realize this achievement, but once he did, he asked for help.
âThere is a huge stigma that comes with alcohol abuse,â he said. “I thought I must have been a 62 year old man living under a bridge.”
And it was this stigma that brought Wirth and hundreds of others to Veterans Park on September 18 for Flagler Open Arms Recovery Services’ first National Festival of the Month of Recovery.
The event was designed to raise awareness in the community about substance abuse disorders, according to Pam Birtolo, Executive Director of Flagler OARS.
âPart of our goal is to bring recovery out of the shadows,â she said.
Birtolo, who is recovering herself, said the stigma surrounding addiction and recovery prevents many people from seeking the help they need. But she has seen a change over the years.
âKids don’t have much of a problem bringing it out into the open, and the more we do it, the more people will recover from it. “
About 35 exhibitors participated in the event, each offering a service to people suffering from addiction.
Birtolo said Flagler County has many services for people seeking to quit using drugs or drinking alcohol, but the festival was an opportunity to bring all of these services together in one place.
The theme for this year’s National Recovery Month is âRecovery is for Everyone,â which suits Flagler OARS very well.
âWe honor and respect several pathways to recovery,â said Birtolo. “Some people practice total abstinence, some still drink, some are Alcoholics Anonymous, some are Narcotics Anonymous. We celebrate and honor all of this.
The event started at noon with a yoga class and continued until 8 p.m. with live music and drug and alcohol addiction healing stories.
Exhibitors included drug addiction and rehabilitation centers; transitional and recovery housing; Focus on Flagler Youth; Flagler cares; Yoga of love; Connection to care; and more.
Kim Carney, Flagler OARS board chair, said when the local salvage community heard about the festival, they worked hard to make it happen.
âThese people want to be loved. They want to go out, they want to be part of a community, âshe said. “Once they have the chance to connect, they are remarkable.”
Wirth, whose lyrics tell his story of recovery, does not regret starting over in Palm Coast. He moved in July 2020 after spending 30 days in rehab. He entered Palm Coast Transitions, a sober living house for recovering people.
âI was only coming for two months, but I decided to stay,â he said. “I really like it here.”
He credits the institution for putting him back on his feet and presenting him with a strong support system of people in various stages of recovery.
âI had to learn to do it all over soberly,â he said.
He said he had formed a close bond with his roommates – a “brotherhood,” as he described it.
âI had a great bunch of guys to do fun stuff with without drinking alcohol,â he said.
After six months at Palm Coast Transitions, Wirth found his place. And his real estate agent’s license.
âI am so grateful to be an alcoholic,â he said. “Today I wouldn’t have what I have without him.”
Local drug overdoses and availability of Narcan
Narcan also had a booth at the event and provided free doses of the anti-overdose drug.
Carney said wearing Narcan should be as common as learning CPR.
âI believe it should be in every home and worn by every person,â she said.
Carney said she has doses at home, although opioid addiction is not present.
“You never know,” she said.
According to the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70% of the nearly 71,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid. Opioid medications include prescription pain relievers such as OxyContin and Vicodin; heroin; and fentanyl, a synthetic opioid pain reliever.
Fentanyl is 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Fentanyl is added to heroin to increase its potency or to disguise the drug as a very potent heroin. This has been a threat to drug addicts for years.
When the pandemic struck in 2020, between March and July, 148 people died from drug overdoses in Flagler and Volusia counties. This is a 54% increase from the 96 drug overdose deaths during the same period in 2019, according to data from the medical examiners’ offices.
Local health systems have also observed a sharp increase in non-fatal overdoses.
Nationally, drug overdose deaths rose 30.9% in 2020, according to preliminary data compiled in August by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About Flagler OARS
Flagler Open Arms Recovery Services is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit dedicated to removing the stigma of substance use disorders through education, advocacy and peer support for individuals and families affected by substance abuse.
The local branch, one of 12 in the state, started in October 2019 with a grant from the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association. The all-volunteer organization was operational in April 2020, just as the COVID pandemic was shutting down everything.
But instead of suspending services until the pandemic subsides, members have been rushing forward.
âWe could have gone back (after COVID), but we had a lot of people engaged,â Carney said.
So, like most organizations, they started offering programs through Zoom, such as Lunch & Learns and educational coins, Birtolo said.
Carney said the organization has achieved the goals of its strategic plan this year and is working on the goals for next year.
For more information on the services, visit flagleropenarmsrecovery.org.