Advocates for Opioid Recovery’s Survivors Council works to elevate the stories of people who know first-hand that recovery is possible.
The Council is comprised of opioid addiction survivors and co-survivors (eg. family members and caretakers) who are living in recovery. As AOR’s patient advocates, Survivors Council members are helping to break down the stigma of opioid use disorder and shape the future of access to recovery treatment and services by sharing their personal stories, engaging with the media, and participating in AOR grassroots advocacy efforts.
Meet the Survivors Council
Megan Aronson is a national addiction recovery advocate and a co-survivor of addiction after her husband’s battle with opioid addiction led him to sustained recovery. Her husband Kory injured his back in 2003 helping his grandmother with a home repair. His doctor prescribed Vicodin, which led to Kory’s slow decline into addiction over a period of ten years. In 2013, Megan asked him to leave and became a single parent to three small children. Left to recover their lives from the effects of his addiction – filing police reports and protection orders – Megan was determined to divorce Kory. But when he emerged from rehab 55 days later, healthy and sober, she found the strength to forgive him when she realized she hated addiction, not him. They put their family back together through forgiveness and hard work and five years later, Kory is still sober and working in upper-level management. Megan now serves as an Ambassador to the drug prevention organization MATFORCE. In that role, she speaks to addicts and their families and works on task forces to combat the drug epidemic. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir RISE AGAIN, the story of how she and Kory fell in love, suffered through Kory’s addiction, and ultimately found their way back to each other and a loving, service-filled life.
Jennifer is a person in recovery from addiction and has chosen to use her recovery to advocate on behalf of others in need. After a car accident, Jennifer was prescribed a mixture of opioids to help manage the pain. Her doctors ended her prescription after a year of treatment causing Jennifer to go through painful withdrawals and ultimately turn to heroin to help manage the pain and discomfort. Jennifer overdosed several times and was unable to find a treatment program that worked for her needs until she entered a drug court and was directed towards Vivitrol, a form of medication-assisted treatment. MAT has allowed Jennifer to take control of her pain and discomfort and live the life she has always wanted. Now with more than a year in recovery, Jennifer works to raise awareness around recovery so other people suffering from addiction can have access to the same lifesaving treatment she received.
John S. Dittmann
As an ardent proponent for people with substance use disorder, John incorporates his passion for science in his work towards ending unnecessary deaths. John’s struggle with substance use began during his first semester of college and hit a turning point with an arrest several months after graduation. In an effort to fulfill the treatment stipulation of probation before judgment, and to avoid the 12 step/ abstinence-only programs that had failed him and many of his friends before, John entered a methadone treatment program. While it ultimately saved his life, a personal incident with the facility opened his eyes to the much bigger problem, disturbing incidents, policies, and practices that were detrimental to the patients’ well-being and overall recovery. As a result, John has become committed to advocating for unobstructed access to safe facilities for all people suffering from opioid use disorder and is also very outspoken on the need for facilities to utilize new technology and implement the latest evidence-based clinical guidelines. John runs a Facebook community aimed at support and ending the stigma through education and self-empowerment and also participates in local and national events centered around recovery, specifically harm reduction.
Megan is a person in recovery from opioid addiction. She has been in and out of various treatments for the last five years but found the only resource that truly made a difference in her fight for long-term recovery was evidence-based MAT. Now a year into her recovery, Megan takes life one day at a time and enjoys having the strength to fight for others in her situation. Megan holds a fulltime job as a recovery specialist and works to break down stigma around methadone and suboxone and help others transition out of addiction into sustained recovery. When Megan isn’t busy working or being a full-time mom, she hosts a support group for individuals affected by the opioid crisis every week and works tirelessly to grow her recovery community. Megan is excited to be an advocate for medication-assisted treatment and strives to ensure more communities in Pennsylvania and around the country continue to ensure the expansion and implementation of evidence-based treatments.
Sara Gefvert, CRS
Sara has been in recovery from opioid addiction for more than six years and has since become a passionate leader in the recovery community in Philadelphia. Prior to entering a methadone clinic in 2013, Sara lived with opioid addiction, chronic homelessness, and prostitution for 17 years. Methadone has allowed Sara to regain control of her life, enter into long-term recovery from her addiction, and become an advocate and leader for others suffering from addiction. Since 2014, Sara has become a state-licensed Certified Recovery Advocate (CRS) and works for the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health as a Peer Advocacy Project Leader. In her work as a peer advocate, Sara created the Methadone Information and Patient Supported Advocacy (MIPSA) support page on Facebook, which now has over 2,500 members, and served on the Opioid Task Force for the city of Philadelphia. Sara proudly identifies as a methadone success story and has dedicated her life to ensuring others have access to lifesaving, evidence-based medication-assisted treatment.
Garrett Hade is a person in sustained recovery from addiction and has worked with a number of national nonprofit organizations dedicated to finding solutions to ending the addiction crisis. In partnership with Recovery Reform NOW, an 501c4 organization dedicated to advocating and advancing policy reforms for the treatment of substance use disorder, Garrett helped write Senate Bill 1228 in the California legislature. This bill is an attempt to help reform the treatment industry in the state, by requiring providers to provide safe and ethical care to people who suffer from substance use disorder. Garrett has spent the last two years traveling the country, visiting communities, prisons, jails, hospitals and treatment centers to advocate for better access to care, ethical standard in the treatment industry, criminal justice reform, and access to life-saving medications like naloxone. He has provided addiction education and naloxone trainings to detox and treatment centers, sober livings, and community events nationwide – helping to break stigma and provide effective knowledge to help save lives.
Ryan Hampton is a national addiction recovery advocate and person in sustained recovery. He has worked with multiple nonprofits across the country and served in a staff capacity for various political campaigns. A former White House staffer, Hampton is in recovery from 10 years of active opioid use. He is a leading voice in America’s rising recovery movement. His interviews have appeared on NPR and HLN, and in Forbes, Slate, the Wall Street Journal, and others. Ryan is the author of “American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis – and How to End It,” published by St. Martin’s Press.
Kathleen’s family has been affected by the opioid epidemic for many years. Her adult son developed a long-term addiction to heroin which lasted over eight years. Throughout his addiction, Kathleen and her family watched him suffer through multiple overdoses, homelessness, and arrests. Friends and community members have been lost to overdose. Kathleen always feared that her son would be next. Fortunately, a methadone treatment program has helped Kathleen’s son to rebuild his life and work towards a sustained recovery of over a year. Kathleen’s son is a dedicated father, husband, and employee. Kathleen’s son would not be here today if it weren’t for methadone and she has become a fierce advocate for increased access to all medication-assisted treatments. MAT helped keep her family together and now Kathleen wants to pay it forward and provide hope for families in similar situations around the country.
Katrina is a mother, an advocate, a peer navigator, and a person in long-term recovery from opioid addiction. After being laid-off from an impressive corporate position, suffering a painful injury, and helping her daughter recover from a sexual assault, Katrina became addicted to prescription opioids – at one point taking up to 40 pills a day. Katrina was arrested and forced to detox while serving a jail sentence. In her seventh month in jail, her daughter, also struggling with opioid addiction, was placed on a treatment waitlist and died from an overdose two days later. After Katrina’s release, she was placed on probation and began to volunteer full-time to lead other people suffering from addiction towards resources that could help. During this time, Katrina observed that individuals who received medication-assisted treatment were more likely to be successful in their recovery and become long-term survivors. Katrina now works for George Mason University in the first controlled research reentry navigation program in the country, the Empowered Communities Opioid Project, and will soon become a sober coach to others who are suffering. Katrina’s story was also profiled in the FBI’s 2016 documentary, “Chasing the Dragon.”
Zac is a person in sustained recovery from opioid addiction and has made it his mission to expand access to the same lifesaving care he received when beginning his recovery. His struggle with opioids began shortly after entering graduate school for a Master of Social Work degree. Zac was prescribed opioid pain medications to treat minor knee and back pain and quickly developed a severe dependency which eventually led him to become an IV heroin user. When the time came that Zac realized he needed help, he was forced to drive two hours away in order to find an OTP without a waitlist and continued to make that drive daily for the first 90-days of treatment. While Zac has since been able to taper off methadone and transition into a medication-free state of recovery, he recognizes that everyone’s path is different and acknowledges the need for long-term maintenance treatment options. After entering into recovery, Zac quickly became involved in advocacy, finished his MSW degree, and now owns and operates two OTPs in addition to being a board member of the Alcohol & Drug Abuse Certification Board of Georgia as well as the Opioid Treatment Providers of Georgia. Zac is living proof that recovery is possible and takes more than a one-size-fits-all approach.