Farm hosts rally to memorialize opioid victims
BENEDICT, Md. — When Timmy Flynn returned to Maryland, his home state, in 2013, he had a dark but singular goal.
The 25-year-old wanted only to fill another prescription for painkillers before returning to Tennessee where he’d been living in a halfway house after completing treatment for an addiction to Oxycontin.
At that point, it had been about five years since Flynn injured his back working as an apprentice electrician.
The treatment: An ultimately dangerous sequence of painkillers, therapy, back surgery and more painkillers.
Flynn quickly developed an addiction.
“It was at a time when we had all these pain clinics. In Maryland and West Virginia,” said his father, Mike Flynn, 64. “Addicts would find them, and all you had to do was pay $150, have your MRI, and they would give you 30 days worth of opioids. You could just go doctor shopping.”
Flynn purchased his pills and got high. He was pulled over by police, who decided he was too high to be jailed and instead delivered him to a hospital, his father said.
When he declined treatment, he was released.
His painkillers, legally purchased, were returned to him.
He died of an overdose later that day, July 12, 2013.
“It was tragic, but each addict has their own little story, and they’re ugly,” Mike Flynn said. “They’re just ugly.”
Flynn was one of more than 200 names and faces that were honored this month at Serenity Farm in Charles County during the fourth annual Tri-County Memory Walk, an event created to recognize the rising number of deaths due to opioid addiction in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties.
Though organizers didn’t count the total number of people who attended, there were 369 cars in the parking lot, said Bernie Fowler Jr., a co-organizer of the event and founder of Farming 4 Hunger, a nonprofit that grows and distributes food to the needy and leases land at Serenity Farm.
The June 9 event included a walk on the farm past photos of addiction victims.
Flower seeds — taken from flowers planted at last year’s walk — were planted in memory of the victims, and the event included a speaker: Timmy Flynn Sr.’s son, 9-year-old Timmy Flynn Jr., who spoke about the memory of his father and the importance of recognizing the complexity of addiction.
“People treat people on drugs like they don’t matter. They do matter. Everyone on that wall matters. To someone. At least I hope they do,” he said, referring to a wall at the farm that displays photos of drug victims who have been honored there. “My dad had dreams he wanted to become a counselor and help young kids that started using drugs to stop and find other ways to be OK. I feel like he would have been good at that.”
Lori Hony, who runs a homeless shelter in nearby Prince Frederick, first conceived the idea of the memory walk, said Fowler, who had been supplying the shelter with food.
He said he immediately felt a connection to it — his daughter, Lauren, 28, was freshly clean from several years of opioid addiction, and Serenity Farm’s owner, Frank Robinson, also lost a granddaughter to addiction in 2014.
Their experiences coincided with a shocking rise in drug-related deaths nationwide and in Maryland over the last decade.
The number of yearly deaths from heroin in the state rose from 399 in 2007 to 1,212 in 2016, according to a Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene report last year.
Deaths related to Fentanyl, a heavy prescription opioid, rose from just 26 in 2007 to 1,119 in 2016.
“My daughter’s picture could be on a stake in that field or on that wall,” Fowler said. He offered to host the walk at Serenity Farm, seeing it as an extension of Farming 4 Hunger’s mission to the help the needy.
One of the farm’s well-known initiatives is its work with incarcerated criminals who are brought on the farm to work and, if they want, receive career training and education.
“What really is hunger? There’s physical hunger obviously. There’s spiritual, emotional (needs) that we hunger for. Second chances,” Fowler said. “The amount of food wasn’t as important as the people that we were working with.”
The first walk in 2014 included 83 pictures of victims from around the tri-county area, he said.
Now, it has 228 pictures.
Fowler said he remembers a couple who lost their daughter on a Friday and attended the walk the following day.
Another woman who has volunteered at the farm lost her daughter to addiction this month.
A ceremony in the farm’s garden area has been planned, he said.
The deaths, local and rising in number, have forced many people to reevaluate the way they view addiction, Fowler said.
“I think it started making people sit up a little bit more. When you have deaths in the inner cities, people just say, ‘Well, that’s the norm.’ It’s not a good mindset, but that’s the mindset,” he said. “We need to honor those loved ones that we’ve lost. When you look at the pictures and the walk, it’s not the picture that most people have in their minds of heroin dealers and addicts. It’s American kids.”
The pictures remain on a wall in a facility on the farm.
Through a partnership with local schools, every seventh-grader in all three counties visits the farm as part of program to encourage healthy choices, both in diet and lifestyle, Fowler said.
“In many cases, the kids on field trips or the teachers knew someone on that wall,” he said.
Fowler said he wants to expand the memory walk to different parts of the state that are struggling with addiction rates, including the Eastern Shore and western Maryland.
It’s an important form of remembrance, Mike Flynn said.
“It’s a way of not forgetting people who otherwise would be lost, who would be forgotten,” he said. “An addict in many cases has really destroyed many of the relationships and the families they have had in the past. Many times, when they die, they’re alone. And in this way, they’re not alone.”
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