Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall, What is the MARTI Conference About After All?

by Sara Starke


I attended a conference put on by the Mid-Atlantic Research and Training Institute (MARTI). This MARTI Conference was titled “Promoting Recovery and Wellness; For Individuals, Families, and Communities.” I learned about the roots of the opioid epidemic, drug and alcohol addiction causes, recovery options for addicts and families, suicide prevention, treatments for trauma survivors, and how to handle stress effectively—all in five days. I took part in this conference as an undergraduate student, while others were taking it as a graduate student or receiving CEUs (Continuing Education Units) which are required for professionals like treatment specialists and therapists. Others were clergymen, doctors, professors, or people simply interested in learning more about the aforementioned topics; some attendees also presented.

To prepare for this conference, I participated in my online class the week prior to the actual, physical conference. Every day, the class consisted of taking notes from PowerPoint presentations, recent articles, and videos, posting 150-word responses to questions on a discussion board and replying to three classmates’ posts in 50 words, and taking a short quiz. Each day was focused on a different topic, just like the conference. We learned about dressing and acting appropriately at the conference, the stigma around addiction and mental illness, the opioid epidemic in its entirety, suicide, suicide prevention, and issues concerning the Golden Gate Bridge, and treatment and recovery programs that thrive and fail in America.

When I attended the conference, my first impression was how professional but also laid back it was. There were free refreshments, a few speakers allowed the audience to interrupt their sessions for questions and comments, and the speakers stuck around after their talks for a little one-on-one time with those of us who had personal questions. I was intimidated by some of the speakers because they were incredibly intelligent and well-versed in many different areas.

The conference was Monday, July 10th to Friday, July 14th.

  • Monday, I attended sessions concerning the opioid epidemic: how we can treat addicts and focus on families too, medicine-assisted treatment for addicts, two personal recovery stories, and the importance of preventative care.
  • Tuesday, I received suicide prevention training, I sat in on a session on the interconnectivity between suicide, substance abuse, and mental illness, a Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) discussion, and a session looking at the news media’s role in the opioid and addiction crisis.
  • Wednesday began with looking at peer and family recovery groups, followed by the root causes of addiction and the opioid crisis, a continuing session on ethics with treatment specialists, and a personal story from a comedian.
  • Thursday included topics on relationships and their involvement with addiction, dysfunctional families, substance use issues on the college campus and preventative measures, and different kinds of trauma and associated treatments.
  • Friday was relaxed with a session on stress and how to deal with it.

Shattering the Opioid Epidemic:

The “opioid epidemic” is spread through western Pennsylvania and seeping in parts of West Virginia and Ohio. It’s called an epidemic because thousands of people die from opioid-related drug overdoses and crimes each year.

Read More: https://www.attn.com/stories/8365/map-top-cause-of-death-by-state

Some of the causes of the opioid epidemic are:

  • chronic pain,
  • lower back pain,
  • any kind of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, or child),
  • trauma,
  • surgery,
  • and injuries

There’s an incredible correlation between this working class, highly labor-intensive areas and opioid and heroin use. This is because of work-related injuries and feelings of hopelessness or being stuck in the same job. Doctors have overprescribed opioid medications to patients to treat all kinds of pain, but especially to those who may have the genetic predisposition to become addicted to them, and now opioid use, misuse, and overdose-related death rates are incredibly high.


Treatment for opioid addiction ranges from medicine-assisted treatment (MAT) to rehabilitation programs and support groups all across the country. MAT uses a variety of different less-addictive, still possibly lethal opioid medications while slowly tapering the person in recovery off of them. This reduces withdrawal symptoms and relapse rates. Rehab programs may use MAT but focus on changing behaviors and thinking and teaching them social or professional skills.

The problem is that everyone is different so one model of treatment may work for a couple people but not others. So, treatment professionals and facilities need to be able to specialize programs for each person.


Another issue that many people face is relapse; it’s when a person in recovery turns back to drugs. It may be accidental or on purpose; either way, it happens. Adrienne Smith and Robin Horston Spencer, both people in long-term recovery, said they’ve relapsed. Yet, both women are advocates for those addicted to drugs and their families now. Addiction affects the person addicted, their family, friends, and coworkers.

Recently there has been a push for more family-oriented support groups, because in the past, they were neglected in the whole addiction and recovery process. The reality is that the family deals with what treatment programs don’t see, and they’re emotionally, mentally, and physically drained by putting on a smile, trying to understand and handle the addiction on their own. Richard Jones introduced FAVOR-Greenville (Faces and Voices of Recovery) to us at the conference. It is a nonclinical, peer and family support group in South Carolina. He explained that the structure of the program doesn’t limit it to just South Carolina; it can be adapted for any area.

FAVOR focuses on:

  • life experiences of the family members,
  • embraces different pathways to recovery,
  • teaches the families skills to handle the stress that comes with having an addict in the family and how to manage crises on their own,
  • and connects members of different families in order to promote a sense of community. Jones said that this has been working wonderfully in Greenville and hopes other areas severely affected by addiction will adopt FAVOR or a similar program.


Looking at Suicide and Prevention:

Suicide is defined as “death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with the intent to die as a result of that behavior” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Suicide affects us all. And although discussing the idea of someone taking their own life may be difficult, it must be done.


Some signs/causes of suicide include but are not limited to:

  • explicit statements of self-harm or suicide,
  • general feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and/or worthlessness,
  • researching suicide,
  • giving away prized possession,
  • relapse after recovery,
  • loss of a relationship (familial, platonic, or romantic),
  • and feeling numb, isolated, and isolated.

Some risk factors are:

  • intense partner problems,
  • criminal/legal issues,
  • and major health problems.

During the conference, we were trained in QPR which allows us to help those who are considering suicide. QPR sounds like CPR, but is focused more on mental health, not physical health.

During the conference, we were trained in QPR which allows us to help those who are considering suicide. QPR sounds like CPR, but is focused more on mental health, not physical health.

  • Q stands for question. Ask the person how they’ve been feeling lately, what’s been going on in their life, and if you’re straightforward, ask them if they’ve been thinking about killing themselves. Knowing what’s going on inside helps get them help.
  • P means persuade. Persuade the person to stay alive. Listen to what they say, offer hope: who do you care about/who cares about you? Look for hooks—pets, vacations, goals, dreams, etc.—something they haven’t done yet or something they’d leave behind that they don’t want to.
  • R indicates refer. People believe they can’t be helped and that’s simply not the case. You can take them directly to care/treatment (if they’re willing), help them make treatment arrangements and a commitment to accept help and not to kill themselves, and give them information about facilities and treatments. Let them know they’re not alone. Follow up with them after treatment.

Reflections Not in the Mirror:

Attending this conference has greatly affected me and has changed my perspective on addictions, treatments, and suicide. Because of this conference, I’m closer to finishing my requirements for my sociology degree. I’m required to complete an internship for my sociology degree, and this conference has helped me narrow down where I want to intern and what I want to do. I know that I don’t want to work at a suicide hotline because I think it would be too stressful and emotionally and mentally exhausting. I’m more interested in group or family recovery support systems and how to reach out to more people.

This required internship will help me with my career, in addition to the two certificates I received at the conference (one for QPR training and the other for completing the conference). I will be able to build on my resume and apply my skills when working in the real world.

Furthermore, partaking in this conference has allowed me to relate what I’ve learned in the sessions to my personal life and relationships. When I spoke to one of the lecturers and asked about how to address alcoholism and its indirect effects on someone quite close to me, he said to let the person know that I’m here to listen, to support, and to talk (if or when they wanted to). He said not to force them to open up or become angry about how the alcoholism has affected the family, but be kind, open, available, and accessible.

I now know how to help those who have experienced trauma. I also know what I can do to manage my stress. In addition to all of this, I can now help those in my life who may be showing signs of suicide and support them throughout the entire process. I can also use my new understanding for drug addiction and the effects it has on society in daily interactions with others.

At the MARTI conference, over the course of five days, I learned about the opioid epidemic, recovery options for addicts and families, suicide prevention, and how to handle stress effectively.


I would recommend this conference and class to any students interested in becoming addictions, trauma, or suicide treatment specialists and students majoring in:

  • sociology,
  • psychology,
  • criminology,
  • hospitality,
  • education,
  • communications and journalism,
  • and nursing or any kind of medicine-related majors (pre-med, nuclear medicine, etc.).

A few things to know before attending the conference are:

  • the sessions may feel long but they’re completely worth it;
  • and the topics aren’t the easiest to hear, but if someone doesn’t talk about them, then no one will.
  • Stay on campus, not in a hotel! It’s tons cheaper and you have less distance to walk to the sessions.
  • Bring your own snacks, like animal crackers, fruit, or granola bars (Clif Bars are great!).
  • Pack more than five professional outfits in case you spill something on yourself or feel uncomfortable wearing something.
  • Go with someone! You guys can talk about the topics during breaks and meals.
  • And last but not least, if an idea resonated with you or you want to know how to apply something in your own life, stick around after the session and talk with the speaker. They’re not intimidating or scary; they’re human too.



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