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Artist Charmaine Wheatley’s rendering of Shawna Edwards displayed at the MAC on August 5, as part of the “Art Reducing Stima” campaign.

Mountain Comprehensive Care Center's Art Reducing Stigma Campaign returned to the Mountain Arts Center Aug. 5, to display the portraits painted by University of Rochester Resident Artist Charmaine Wheatley.

The campaign, tasked with reducing the stigma that comes with addiction by showing that recovering addicts can succeed and become productive members of society.

"There's a stigma that goes with it. That people are weak, that people don't want help out of this, and that's not true at all," said Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton.

While impacting nearly every household in America, opioid abuse is rampant in the more rural and poor parts of the nation.

Shawn Allen, a recovering addict, spoke of the stigma, the shame and guilt that comes with addiction.

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Portrait of Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton painted by University of Rochester Resident Artist Charmaine Wheatley.

"There is a lot of stigma attached to that word–– addict. A lot of negative connotation that goes along with that," Allen said.

Allen spoke of his rough road through the perilous life that comes along with addiction, but how there is hope on the other side.

"I am not ashamed of being an addict, not anymore,” he said. “I used to be. Recovery has given me the opportunity to rid myself of the shame, the guilt, the regret and the remorse that I continuously piled on myself.”

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Recovering addict and advocate Shawn Allen, portrayed in Charmaine Wheatley’s portrait displayed at the MAC on August 5.

The event featured five portraits, including by Allen, Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton, Renee Ratliff, Roy Micheal Brown and Shawna Edwards. They shared their experiences of addiction with artist Charmaine Wheatley, who then painted the portraits.

Opioid overdose deaths rose nationally by more than 35 percent from November 2019 to November 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, in Kentucky, they rose nearly 70 percent, from 985 in 2019, to an estimated 1,672 in 2020, making Kentucky one of the most severely affected states in the country, according to a recently-released report.

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