Local coalition strives to help recovering addicts, raise awareness, increase number of prevention programs –
Story and photos by Patricia Beech –
Members of the Coalition for a Drug Free Adams County met on Thursday, Oct. 19 at the West Union High School to discuss community initiatives for identifying, treating, and supporting recovery for those addicted to opiates, heroin, methamphetamine, and other life-altering drugs.
“We’re trying to develop a system that will connect addicts with people and resources that can help them through their recovery,” said Randy Chandler, the Coalition Director. “We need both faith-based and secular opportunities, we need volunteers, and we need life coaches and accountability partners who can connect with those who are going through recovery.”
In an effort to raise awareness about drug addiction, Chandler said the Coalition has recruited members from diverse sectors of the community such as employers, youth workers, faith community leaders, school administrators, teachers and counselors, public health and human services personnel, treatment professionals, law enforcement and county court services personnel, medical and social service fields, as well as other committed individuals, including people from the recovering community.
According to Chandler, these coalitions have “joined forces to disseminate relevant information, conduct visioning sessions, develop and implement action plans and programs, and conduct educational sessions and informational campaigns throughout their communities.”
Some of the speakers for Friday’s event included Carol Baden from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Adams County Common Pleas Court Judge Brett Spencer, Adams County Health Director Dr. William Hablitzel, and Senator Sherrod Brown via video.
Baden, the Ohio Attorney General’s Community Outreach Specialist, told those attending that Adams County and other adjacent counties that have been hit hard by the drug problem are on the verge of yet another epidemic.
“We closed down the pill mills that dispensed narcotic painkillers, then we saw heroin use escalate as a replacement drug,” she said. “Adams County is on the verge of an HIV epidemic driven by IV drug use – it’s not a question of if we will see an increase in HIV, it’s a matter of when.”
Health Director Hablitzel identified drug abuse and addiction as Adams County’s leading health problems followed by mental health disorders, cancer, obesity, nutrition and lack of physical activity, poverty, diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease.
Citing a health department assessment survey conducted in the Adams County schools, he said that local students reported having higher than usual mental health issues. He warned against ignoring the direct link between drug abuse and mental health issues, specifically depression.
“We learned that a significant number of our students frequently feel sad and hopeless at a rate much higher than the national average,” said Hablitzel. “Not surprisingly, this same group of students are involved in more physical fights and report being bullied at a rate much higher than the state and national average.”
West Union high school principal Roger Taylor said that the self-submitted survey data points to the struggles of our local communities and risks that our students are taking.
“Do we have a substance problem to address? Over time drugs continue to evolve and change,” Taylor said. “I would argue that we have a hope and opportunity problem. While not necessarily causative, despair is undoubtedly a correlated antecedent to drug abuse.”
Taylor said the survey results should prompt a call to action in the education community.
“As educators, the spirit of our job description is to instill hope and to create more opportunities for children,” he said. “Perhaps we can make an impact on the problem.”
Speaking about the prevalence of the drug epidemic in Adams County, Judge Spencer said, “In Adams County, our problem right now isn’t opiates, it’s methamphetamine.”
Referencing his first murder trial as a sitting judge in Adams County Common Pleas Court, he recounted how a young man was convicted of killing, then burning the body of an acquaintance over $13 worth of methamphetamine.
The Judge’s account of the incident struck a chord with Principal Taylor, who had previously known the young man.
“The convicted murderer was at one point my neighbor, bus stop companion, classmate, and a friend,” said Taylor. “My family was much more intact, and he undoubtedly engaged in more risk-taking behavior than I did, however, he was in fact my peer. I remember seeing his face on the front page of the newspaper, and I knew at that point something had disturbed the innocence and tranquility of our county and local communities. From that time forward, I knew we had a problem without a clearly defined solution.”
Finding solutions, according to Chandler, is why the Coalition and its five subcommittees were founded.
“I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things that prepared me for doing this job,” he says. “Finding the right people and helping them find their passion, giving them direction and guidance – that’s what this coalition is about – connecting people to resources that can turn their lives around.”