Former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Zachary Orr has teamed up with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's Behavioral Health Administration (BHA) to produce a series of public service announcement videos addressing the stigma surrounding substance use disorders.
Orr, who announced his retirement from professional football in January due to a spinal condition, got involved in this project on behalf of the Ravens to help reverse the stigma surrounding individuals who struggle with opioid addiction.
"This cause is important to me because, after doing research, I realized how the perception of opioid abuse is received," Orr said in an email. "In most cases, it is looked upon as a shameful act, but in reality, it's a real issue that needs to be treated as a disease -- just like many other addictions are. I feel like it is very important to destigmatize opioid addiction and get the proper help to those in need."
This PSA campaign is part of Gov. Larry Hogan's 2017 Heroin and Opioid Prevention, Treatment and Enforcement Initiative, which is an effort to address Maryland's ongoing opioid and heroin epidemic. From 2007-2015, the number of yearly heroin deaths in Maryland has increased from 399 to 748, according to the Maryland Vital Statistics Administration Annual Overdose Death Report.
Orr filmed three PSAs highlighting the stigma of this disease; the benefits of naloxone, a lifesaving drug that can reverse an overdose; and information about the Good Samaritan Law that protects Marylanders from arrest or prosecution if they assist someone overdosing and call 911. The videos have aired on local TV and in area movie theaters.
"Real people talking about opioid abuse as a disease instead of a law enforcement issue helps the public to understand that this issue is real and people need help," said BHA director of public awareness Margie Donohue. "Almost immediately, we received emails from people who have experienced this disease firsthand, thanking us for putting it in this light -- that it shouldn't be all negative."
As a recognizable sports figure taking the lead in raising awareness on this issue, Orr has also experienced the effects of his role in this positive campaign.
"I have definitely seen the positive impact the PSAs have had on numerous people," Orr said. "Many people have personally reached out to me sharing their own personal experiences with addiction and how they are thankful that me and many others are standing up for them to get proper care. In life, I always want to help others in any way I can so it's something I would like to continue bringing awareness to the problem and help in any way."
Since stepping away from his career in professional football, Orr continues his work in the community as he prepares to begin a foundation to support at-risk kids. During his retirement announcement in January and afterward, he spoke about his hope to pursue coaching and also his desire to carry on his work in the community.
"I haven't gotten involved in any other projects just yet. I recently had shoulder surgery and am jumpstarting my foundation," Orr said. "My focus has been rehabbing and the foundation, but I will get involved in other projects in the near future."
Marylanders who need help finding substance use disorder treatment resources should visit MdDestinationRecovery.org or call the Maryland Crisis Hotline, which provides 24/7 support, at 800-422-0009.
Issue 231: March 2017