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Forest County Community Walks for Recovery

Erin Gottsacker/WXPR

When the opioid epidemic started a few years ago, Forest County was hit hard.

From 2011 to 2016, the number of opioid-related hospital encounters for young adults increased by 750 percent, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

The community decided to do something about that.

Four years ago, the Forest County Potawatomi and Sokaogon Chippewa Community came together for the first “Walk for Recovery” to support those suffering from addiction and to raise awareness for the fight against opioids.

Since then, the walk has become a yearly tradition. The fourth annual “Walk for Recovery” took place Friday.

On the side of US Highway 8 just outside of Crandon, a crowd dressed in matching white t-shirts rallies for the 13-mile “Walk for Recovery.”

Justin Shawano, the prevention manager for the Forest County Potawatomi, addresses the gathering.

“Before we start, I just want to take a moment of silence for all those alcoholics and addicts that are out there still suffering,” he said. “Hopefully we can spread some awareness and try to get them out of that deep dark place that they’re stuck in.”

Shawano said community involvement in events like this has made a tangible difference in preventing overdose deaths.

“It takes a community to heal a community,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. Having a community movement makes a huge impact.”

Just two years ago, the community lost four people in two weeks to drug overdoses.

Now, it’s been more than seven months since someone died from an overdose.

After the moment of silence, the group starts walking to the sound of beating drums.

Peggy Thornton is among the walkers.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic for 33 years and my son suffers from addiction,” she said. “I’m walking for any addict that is still in pain and can’t get help or refuses to.”

Thornton is attempting to walk all 13 miles of the walk.

Her message to addicts and those recovering is simple: “We’re here for you. We’re going to prove that we’re here for you. We’re not going to run away.”

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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