Two Worcester Opiate Support Groups Plan To Merge

BERLIN – Two local groups, created to bring awareness to addiction in Worcester County, are merging to form a new organization.

This week, the Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction announced its merger with Worcester Goes Purple. Officials said the new organization, Worcester Goes Purple Warriors Against Addiction, will continue the mission of reducing stigma and bringing awareness to addiction.

“We’ve been so grateful for the support of the community,” said Warriors co-founder Heidi McNeeley. “They’ve really rallied around us … that’s why we’ve been able to exist.”

In 2016, McNeeley and Jackie Ball joined forces to provide resources and support to people dealing with addiction. With the support of community members and the Worcester County Health Department, Worcester County Warriors Against Opiate Addiction – a nonprofit organization – was formed.

“We wanted to help get the conversation started in Worcester County and dispel the stigma surrounding addiction,” McNeeley said. “As mothers of children with addiction, we wanted to make it apparent that addiction transcends everything. It has nothing to do with parenting or the environment in which they were raised. We wanted to normalize the conversation, so people could talk about it.”

Since its inception, the organization has partnered with the health department, local schools and businesses, area hospitals and other entities in its mission to end addiction.

Over five years, the Warriors held monthly town hall meetings and provided resources to the community. And with the help of the Humphrey’s Foundation, the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore and numerous local citizens, the nonprofit has raised more than $100,000 to fund recovery efforts.

“Most important, at least to me, is the fact that we’ve helped almost 200 people into recovery with the money donated and raised through fundraisers,” McNeeley said. “I think it’s the most monumental thing that we’ve done.”

But despite the group’s successes, McNeeley said it was time for a change. Late last year, the two organizations began to discuss a merger.

“We have very similar missions,” she said. “And frankly the Warriors have now been in existence for five years, and I think we needed new blood.”

Led by Debbie Smullen, Worcester Goes Purple is an awareness project to engage the community in preventing substance abuse and promoting healthy life choices. The organization launched with grant funding from Maryland’s Opioid Operational Command Center and support from Worcester County Public Schools, the Worcester County Health Department, Atlantic General Hospital and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office.

“Worcester Goes Purple was started in April of 2019 and funded through a grant,” Smullen said. “So it wasn’t actually a business or nonprofit, but a grant-funded organization set up for education and awareness of addictions.”

With the merger, Worcester Goes Purple Warriors Against Addiction will continue to bring awareness to addiction within the community, Smullen said. While Ball and McNeeley will remain as honorary board members, Smullen will lead the new organization as president.

“This will give the organization 501c3 nonprofit status,” she said. “So it will allow us to write for more grants and to be able to continue the same mission of education, awareness and getting people into recovery.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Smullen said it is just as important to address addiction. She noted intoxication fatalities in Worcester County had increased 55.6% from January to June of 2020, compared to the same time period the year prior.

“COVID has made it worse because of the stress, isolation and depression. It’s made people more vulnerable to overdose,” she said. “It was a problem before, but it’s even more serious now.”

Smullen added that the organization’s overarching goal is to end the stigma surrounding all addictions.

For more information on Worcester Goes Purple Warriors Against Addiction, contact Debbie Smullen at wgpwarriors2021@gmail.com.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.