The Need

Southwest Pennsylvania has been hit disproportionately hard by opioid addiction and overdose. Here, as in other parts of the country, public conversations about addiction are often infused with pessimism and blame.

Stigma and shame discourage open dialogue, truly helpful policy interventions, and individual help-seeking.

Support is available, but often hidden. Over 20 million Americans have recovered from drug or alcohol problems, including thousands of resilient Pittsburghers.

There are many subgroups of the greater Pittsburgh recovery community (such as specific 12-step communities, people associated with certain treatment centers, and other groups) but there are few opportunities for these groups to come together as one and demonstrate the sheer number of people who have been personally affected by addiction in our area.

The Solution

In late 2015, in partnership with City Council President Bruce Kraus, IRETA convened a Pittsburgh Recovery Walk workgroup comprised of individuals and organizations that support recovery in western Pennsylvania. The workgroup created the following vision for the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk:

The Pittsburgh Recovery Walk (PRW) is designed to celebrate the many roads to recovery and all those who have traveled them. It also aims to dispel the negative stigma associated with recovery from addiction. Speaking to both people in recovery and the community at large, inclusivity is a central value of the PRW.

The workgroup designed the following measures of the event’s success:

  • People want to come again next year
  • People had fun
  • People feel proud to be in recovery
  • The event generates press and buzz
  • The event combats stigma
  • The event feels like a celebration
  • Celebrating recovery becomes part of the norm: “This is what September is going to look like.”

The Pittsburgh Recovery Walk has always been completely free. Each year, in conjunction with the walk it has offered family-friendly entertainment, musical performances, health screenings, and personal stories of recovery.

Throughout the planning process, IRETA functioned as the workgroup facilitator and the fiscal sponsor of the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk.

The Results

On September 10, 2016, the first Pittsburgh Recovery Walk was held in downtown Pittsburgh, with over 1,000 participants. In its second and third year, the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk doubled in size, hosting over 2,000 participants and dozens of local organizations. The event’s visibility sends a powerful positive message to people in recovery, people currently struggling with addiction, and the community at large.

As of January 2019, the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk has raised over $200,000 from organizations and individual donors.

The Recovery Walk has had a regional impact. Participants have traveled from a 150 mile radius around Pittsburgh, including Beaver, Washington, and Westmoreland counties, as well as Ohio and West Virginia.

Finally, data show that Recovery Walk participants have fun. According to an evaluation of the 2018 Pittsburgh Recovery Walk conducted by the Allegheny County Dept. of Human Services, 95% of respondents said they had fun at the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk.

Epilogue

The planning workgroup has expanded to include more than 30 individuals with personal and professional connections to recovery.

IRETA continues to serve as the workgroup facilitator and fiscal sponsor of the Pittsburgh Recovery Walk.