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Heroin Awareness Walk Saturday Aims to Reduce Stigma of Addiction in Onondaga County

H.E.A.L. of Onondaga County

Organizers of the first-ever Heroin Awareness Walk in Onondaga County are hoping for a big turnout Saturday to help to reduce the stigma associated with addiction.  Recovering addicts, their families, treatment experts, and the community will gather in front of Syracuse City Hall.

Michaline Younis says she has both professional and personal reasons to be heading up the effort.

I’ve been in the field of treatment for 16 years.  We recently lost someone very close to us two years ago from a fentanyl overdose.  And my brother was heroin addicted for 13 years.”

She says he’s been clean for three years.  Younis started the Heroin Epidemic Action League, or HEAL of Onondaga County two months ago after she was invited to meet with the Cayuga County chapter.  She says she and other dedicated volunteers understand the need for a grassroots organization here as the crisis continues.

“Everywhere I go and everybody I talk to knows someone struggling with this type of addiction, whether it’s street drugs and heroin, or pain medication they became addicted to, or actually lost a loved one.  If you were to ask someone who is dealing with it firsthand, they could tell you how real it is and maybe they don’t feel as supported, or there’s not enough resources out there for them.”

She says there is a fairly solid array of treatment options in the county, but can see firsthand some of the barriers and gaps.

“There’s Medicaid laws, there’s insurance companies, there’s lack of bed space, a lack of crisis respite that we just don’t have in this county.  The other part is the stigma, which is people not coming forward and talking about it.  It’s a two-fold issue.”

Younis says we’re not where we need to be with treatment, and society has shunned addiction as "dirty".  She hopes people flood the streets tomorrow to reverse the stigma and show support as they walk from city hall to Clinton square starting at 10 a.m. 

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at