Malik Williams

Malik Williams participates in the Independence Blue Cross “Someone You Know” campaign.

— PHOTO SUBMITTED BY INDEPENDENCE BLUE CROSS

After years of battling substance abuse, Malik Williams is now in the process of recovery.

The North Philadelphia native started using marijuana and heroin when he was a teenager. Williams was drug-free for eight years and owned a successful photography business when the economy crashed. The economic downturn led to his business closing and he relapsed as a coping mechanism. When the opioid epidemic hit, he started using fentanyl.

“It took me to the lowest I’ve ever been,” Williams, 48, recalled.

“I didn’t really have any hope. I lost my self-confidence, so I was kind of lost.”

He turned his life around after turning to One Day at a Time Recovery Inc. (ODAAT) for assistance. The organization provides alcohol and drug services to people seeking support in their recovery efforts. Williams credits Mel Wells Jr., the president and CEO of ODAAT, with helping to restore his self-confidence.

Williams re-opened his photography business, and currently works as a coordinator for ODAAT’s drug and alcohol program. He is pursuing a double major in psychology and behavioral health.

Williams shares his story as part of Independence Blue Cross’s “Someone You Know” public health awareness campaign. The campaign seeks to reduce the stigma of opioid addiction, inspire hope and empower others to seek help and treatment.

“It feels good to be part of something that is trying to tackle the stigma — just imagine how many other people who would maybe open up and get some help, but they are scared to because of how they may be judged or perceived,” Williams says of the initiative.

Independence officials announced the expansion of the campaign during an event Thursday at the company’s Center City headquarters.

Independence has added 10 new diverse stories to the campaign it launched in 2018, including several that address how college students are affected by opioid addiction. Residents throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania will be able to interact with mobile listening stations featuring inspiring stories of local residents who shared their journey through the campaign. The mobile exhibit will travel to colleges, corporate campuses and community events.

Independence also has created an associate group where individuals touched by addiction can share their personal experiences about recovery, losing a loved one or supporting someone in treatment.

“We want to offer employees an opportunity to talk about the challenges they experience or have dealt with in the past,” said Independence CEO Daniel J. Hilferty, who has two sons who grappled with alcohol and substance abuse. “Sometimes having a caring person to talk to makes all the difference in the world.”

The Independence Blue Cross Foundation also launched a “Someone You Know” podcast featuring intimate conversations with campaign participants. The podcast is available at ibxfoundation.org/movement and anywhere podcasts are found.

“‘Someone You Know’ gives us hope,” said Lorina Marshall-Blake, president of the Independence Blue Cross Foundation.

“Together we are changing the narrative of stigma. Recovery from opioid addiction is possible.”

ajones@phillytrib.com (215) 893-5747

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