When it comes to solving the drug epidemic in Madison County, preventing youths from getting addicted in the first place is a key component to success. However, providing support and services for those who already struggle with drug addiction is another crucial piece of the puzzle, say local officials.
That was the message at a seminar last week hosted by Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) Madison County, which sponsored a series of presentations about the state of the drug epidemic in the region.
Lloyd Jordison of the Madison County Health Department cited the success of one current effort in the county school system.
The “Too Good for Drugs” program, which was introduced in Madison County by Berea Police Department Chief David Gregory and Captain Ken Clark, was initially presented to sixth-grade students, teaching the value of making good life decisions. That program has been expanded to include third-graders in some schools, and Jordison notes the hope is to expand it to eighth and ninth graders.
“One of the successes is that it is growing. One of the challenges is that it is growing,” Jordison said, noting the program is expanding in Madison County schools.
Touching on the theme for the day, “What Part Do You Play?” Jordison said in addition to collaborative efforts like ASAP, which fosters networking between many organizations and citizens, the effort to combat drugs in the community will take a lot of one-on-one interaction with youths, including providing them with support and or just being a loving adult in the life of a young person.
Jordison reported alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco are still the drugs of choice for most local high-schoolers, noting there is a need to get the word out those substances are gateways into more addictive and deadly drugs.
Reporting on the activity of the health department’s syringe needle exchange program, Jordison noted 10,287 needles were distributed in 2018, while 6,687 used needles were received and safely discarded (first-time participants aren’t required to turn in used needles to receive clean needles). The program saw 128 clients in 2018, with 305 total visits. The average age of the people receiving needles was 39 years old, 61% of whom were male, and 39% of whom were female, said Jordison. Ninety-two percent have health insurance, and 25% are employed, according to Jordison.
Chief David Gregory participated in the final panel discussion of the day, explaining the efforts his department is making in the battle against drug addiction. The BPD is working to add a social worker to the staff, who can guide addicts to treatment. That staff member would administer a so-called “angel” program, in which drug suspects would be diverted into treatment and not arrested if they request assistance. Additionally, Berea has two police officers working in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program, a cooperative effort of the county’s law enforcement agencies.
Berea Mayor Bruce Fraley, who attended the seminar at the invitation of Gregory, said one of the most important lessons he learned from the event was the need for more support for those trying to free themselves from addiction.
Fraley said people may choose sobriety, but maintaining that will be a challenge if they can’t find decent housing, if they can’t find work because of their criminal record, or if they are only accepted by people who may have led them down the path to addiction in the first place.
“I don’t think it’s just a matter of prevention, enforcement and treatment,” Fraley said. “I’ve always felt those were the three keys, but there’s a forth element that needs to be focused on, and that is support services after a person has made a decision to turn their life around. We need to make sure there’s a support network when they leave rehab.”
Additionally, Fraley said people need to stop viewing the drug epidemic as something that is not their personal concern. “There has to be a realization that even if we don’t have a situation that affects our own family or friends, the cost to society as a whole affects us all,” Fraley said. “The health care system, the criminal justice system, overcrowded jails, and the social problems it creates when children are raised by someone other than their parents – those impact all of society. Just because it may not seem to affect me or you directly, indirectly it affects all of us because of the negative economic impact that it has. It’s not just someone else’s problem,” said Fraley.