The photos of Montgomery County residents who lost their lives to substance abuse line the area near the Montgomery County Executive Office Building on Thursday. Credit: Ginny Bixby

“I am a completely different person than I was when I first came to this event four years ago,” said Hope Klein, the scheduler and case aide for County Council President Evan Glass’ (D-At-large) office — and a person in recovery.

She was speaking to a packed crowd of community members and elected officials at Montgomery Goes Purple on Thursday night in Rockville. The annual event mourns those lost to addiction and celebrates those who have recovered from substance use.

“I heard a woman tell a story about losing a daughter to overdose, and I was still in treatment at the time … she said the best thing we do to honor the children we’ve lost is to recover ourselves. That was an overwhelming moment for me,” Klein said. “I get to help the most vulnerable residents in the county every day with issues from homelessness and housing to potholes and downed trees. I wouldn’t have any of that without my recovery. I am proof that recovery works. Thank you so much for giving me a second chance.”

Montgomery Goes Purple included proclamations and remarks from public officials, including county councilmembers and members of the Maryland General Assembly. But the event focused on the personal anecdotes of people in recovery or with loved ones who have struggled with addiction. The event is visually marked by a memorial wall of photos of county residents who lost their lives to substance use.

Keynote speaker Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D) said substance abuse and mental and behavioral health priorities in her work in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, but it’s for a very personal reason. She lost her brother-in-law, Ed, to addiction, in 2017.

“It’s been six years since Ed’s sudden death. I still haven’t wrapped my head around what happened,” Miller said. “I’ve been through four of the five stages of grief–denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and the fifth one, acceptance–I’d like to tell you I’m there. But I don’t think I will ever forgive myself for being unaware of his pain.”  


Miller said it’s important to work toward ending the stigma so that people feel safe asking for help. This includes treating addiction like the illness it is, as opposed to a choice, she said.

“Substance use and mental health disorders should not be private struggles. They require compassionate and collaborative solutions. Addiction is not a moral failure. It’s a chronic health condition. Addiction can be managed successfully. Recovery is a hard but noble path,” Miller said.

County resident Greg Mitchell, who was celebrating 2,840 days free from substance abuse on Wednesday, asked participants in the crowd to raise their hands if they knew someone who struggled with substance abuse or mental illness. The majority of the audience raised their hands.


“The stigma says that people that deal with the disease of addiction are doing it

that we’re choosing the life that we have every day, that we make that decision. And maybe you do just at the very beginning. But as it progresses, this disease takes you in a way that you’ve never experienced,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell met his wife, Shannon, who also spoke at the event, in recovery. She has been free from substance abuse for eight years. Mitchell is also the son of Laura Mitchell, who serves as chair of the county’s Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction Advisory Council.


“To say that someone in the grips of the disease of addiction is making a choice is no different than saying somebody got in a fatal car accident by choice,” Mitchell said.