Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Zachary Orr is following in the footsteps of his former teammate Joe Flacco by working with the State of Maryland on a public awareness campaign, though this issue is a bit more important than promoting the new bus system.

The AP first reported yesterday that Orr, who recently retired at the young age of 24 due to a congenital spinal injury, is working with the Maryland Department of Mental Health and Hygiene on a series of public service announcements about opioid abuse. The ads will be shown on TV and in movie theaters and will target stigmas surrounding substance abuse disorders, such as shame and the notion that they aren’t to be treated like other diseases.

“Addressing the stigma surrounding heroin and opioid addiction head-on is paramount to ending this epidemic once and for all,” said Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford in a statement. Rutherford thanked Orr for joining up with the state for this cause.

City Health Commissioner Leana Wen highlighted the problem of opioid abuse being treated differently than other diseases yesterday in a press conference about a new police diversion program for cases involving suspected drug offenders. It would seem that Zachary Orr is on her (correct) side of this issue.

State Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dennis Schrader said in a statement that the PSAs raise awareness about the pervasiveness of substance abuse and “stress the importance of making sure that people impacted by addiction – and the people who love them – are aware of the resources available to them.”

They also will share information about naloxone, Commissioner Wen’s championed remedy for reversing overdoses and saving lives. Last week, the city celebrated having trained 20,000 city residents to use the drug to help overdose victims.

Orr’s early retirement announcement was a sad affair, but he’s picked a great cause to champion as he forges a new path in his career. As people tend to listen when a hometown athlete is talking, hopefully they will gain a better understanding of substance abuse from seeing him in the state’s new PSAs.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...