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Hall Recovers honors those lost to addiction, celebrates journey to recovery
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A crowd of a few hundred people walk about Wednesday, Aug. 31, on Roosevelt Square in Gainesville for Hall Recovers, an event focused on addiction recovery. - photo by Nick Watson

The list of names lost to addiction in the Gainesville community now spans roughly 13 pages. 

As the names were read by Jessi Emmett, the flickering flame of one candle would light another as a crowd of a few hundred people stood silently Wednesday, Aug. 31, on Roosevelt Square in Gainesville.

“Hopefully next year, it’s not 14 (pages),” said Emmett, the Hall County Treatment Services director. “Let’s not add one more name to this list, and this community can do it.”

Community leaders and recovery advocates gathered Wednesday evening for Hall Recovers, an event in its third year celebrating addiction recovery and remembering those lost to addiction.

The event was hosted by J’s Place Recovery Center and the Partnership for a Drug Free Hall with support from Northeast Georgia Health System and Gainesville Police.

Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish said there have been 57 overdoses so far this year where a person was saved by Narcan, an opioid overdose reversal medication, and/or medical intervention. More than 20 people have died of overdoses this year, Parrish said.

“Fentanyl is killing us here, proverbially and literally,” Parrish said. “We’ve got to do something.”

Parrish said the “war on drugs” has been waged since before the chief was born and has not worked.

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J's Place Executive Director Jordan Hussey, left, hugs Katie Dunagan before Dunagan speaks Wednesday, Aug. 31, on Roosevelt Square. Dunagan shared her journey with addiction recovery at Hall Recovers. - photo by Nick Watson

“If the war on drugs that the government puts down was a real human war, we would be annihilated as a country,” the police chief said. “We win battles, but we lose the war.”

Those battles won are at the individual level, Parrish said, adding he has been amazed by the stories he has heard of addiction recovery.

“I realized that each person’s story that was in recovery was more powerful than anything I’ve ever woke up and done,” the police chief said.

J’s Place recovery coach Katie Dunagan shared her personal journey with drugs and alcohol.

She said she started drinking at age 15 at parties, mimicking what she thought her peers were also doing.

At 21, Dunagan started with drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy, though her drug of choice for 12 years would be crystal methamphetamine.

“It’s hard to explain to someone who is not an addict why I did such harmful things to myself for so long,” Dunagan said. “One thing I can say: Drugs do not judge. Addiction affected every aspect of my life, as expected, and I wanted to quit so bad. But I did not know how, and I was too scared and too proud to ask for help for fear of judgment.”

Dunagan estimated she had spent more than $100,000 on drugs. 

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Attendees of Hall Recovers, an event focused on addiction recovery, lift candles Wednesday, Aug. 31, at Roosevelt Square to honor those who have died from addiction. - photo by Nick Watson

In November 2010, Dunagan was headed to pick up her daughter from preschool and went to jail instead, when the Hall County Multi-Agency Narcotics Squad knocked on her door to serve her with two felony warrants.

In 2011, she entered Drug Court and graduated in 2013.

But suffering the loss of her father caused Dunagan to begin drinking.

“Within eight months, I was a full-blown alcoholic drinking three bottles of wine a day every day. … I had seemingly overcome my issues,” Dunagan said. “I watched someone I love struggle in the same way that I did, yet I so quickly returned to the lifestyle that I wanted to forget. That’s how powerful addiction is. It is an endless battle and a chronic disease of the brain.”

Now more than four years sober, Dunagan said she has learned how to do life in recovery. It is not a solo journey, Dunagan said, as recovery requires people who believe in them and won’t give up.

“My message and purpose will help others,” Dunagan said. “All of the obstacles in my life were not stumbling stones. They were building blocks. My disease lied to me my entire life, convincing me I was unworthy. But God’s grace said you are enough. And you are valuable.”