"There is no way I could live the rest of my life without doing this work."
- Ashley Rosser
In 2018, Thrive for Change’s Harm Reduction Specialist Ashley Rosser had just recently started pursuing her own recovery journey. Ashley took her first drug when she was 13 years old and from there developed a substance use disorder that continued to progress until she was 26. After a long road that included multiple overdoses reversed with Narcan, Ashley entered treatment for the last time in 2017.
While focusing on her own healing, Ashley sadly faced the loss of many friends and loved ones due to addiction. One loss that completely changed Ashley’s life trajectory was when her ex-boyfriend died from an overdose while his parents were at home with him. His parents did not call 911 right away, but rushed to clean up their son’s drugs before calling for help. By the time help arrived, it was way too late. Ashley could not understand how or why this happened and was determined to do what she could do to make sure it wouldn’t happen again to others.
Ashley started scouring the internet for information on how to prevent accidental overdose fatalities and what resources were available in Ohio. That is when Ashley first learned about harm reduction. The concepts of harm reduction blew her mind as she realized the difference these resources would have made in her own life as well as others she cared about.
Ashley connected with members of grassroots organizations through Facebook who helped her start her own safer use supply and Narcan distribution initiative out of her house using donations and her own funds. Through these efforts, Ashley was able to supply many with life saving tools. She even worked with the local police officers who would stop by her house to pick up Narcan kits. At that time, Ashley knew she was making a difference, but had no idea what these efforts would turn into.
In 2020, Ashley met Bethany Roebuck at a community outreach event that Ashley had helped coordinate to give out Narcan. The two connected right away. Bethany had worked in the recovery field leading statewide initiatives for several years and was looking for a way to do more to directly impact lives. At this time, it was the height of the COVID-19 Pandemic and resources for people at risk of overdoses were very limited. Many other Narcan distribution sites had shut down or reduced their hours. Overdose fatalities increased statewide by 20% and it was clear more needed to be done and fast.
Ashley and Bethany met and developed a plan to conduct COVID-19 protocol compliant community outreach events around Northeast Ohio. These events were not only designed to connect people to harm reduction resources, they also encompassed a full continuum of services such as basic needs, employment, treatment options, and primary care. These efforts would eventually become known as the “Thrive for Change Outreach Tour” and they served over 3,000 people across 5 counties in just a few months.
Thanks to additional new partnerships, in 2021 Thrive for Change expanded their team and efforts with a focus on addressing overdose fatalities in Cuyahoga County and increasing their training efforts. With support from their partner organization Thrive Peer Recovery Services and the community, Thrive for Change incorporated as their own 501c3 nonprofit. They plan to build upon their impact and experiences to help more communities collaborate to address service gaps for those most in need.