DrugFree Wilco, a group dedicated to educate the public about the opioid crisis in Wilson County, held its second public meeting and first of 2019 Thursday night at the Wilson County Board of Education central office to discuss the effects of the crisis on the county’s schools and communities.
The meeting, which was also presented by the Wilson County Schools Family Resource Center, featured a panel discussion with Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright, JourneyPure medical director Dr. Stephen Loyd, Wilson County sheriff’s Lt. Scott Moore, Wilson County Drug Court graduate and voluntary board member Logan Rosson and Wilson County parent Lisa Bass Tapley, whose son died from opioids. Anne Barger, director of the Wilson County Family Resource Center, moderated the forum.
More than 100 people, including parents, school resource officers, educators and students, gathered in an auditorium at the central office to hear the challenges faced with opioids in schools and with the youth population throughout the county.
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance, and said, “I believe we all have a purpose and an agenda that we can help.”
“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, here’s what we know about the opioid crisis. It is the most widespread and deadly drug epidemic this country has ever known. Since 2000, it has claimed more than 300,000 Americans, and deaths continue to rise among men and women of all races and all socioeconomic levels,” Barger said.
Wright said the opioid addiction issue in schools is something that looks a little different from addictions among past generations, but it’s one that has an even greater impact.
“Now, we’re looking at a more innocent way of moving into drug addiction, and the impact that we’re seeing not only with families, but what we’re seeing with young people, some very, very young people,” Wright said. “And so it really helps to put a face on who are the casualties. And when you look at the national statistics, it’s almost more than you can bear. Right now, we know that there are over 8 million children who are living in a home with at least one addicted adult in the family, and the majority are under the age of 5,” Wright said.
Wright outlined the weight on children’s shoulders who have to act as adults at home and how that impacts their education. She told a story about a third grader who was disconnected and fell asleep in class.
“This little guy was taking care of two younger siblings. He was so proud that he was remembering to feed them, get them to bed, get a bath, brush their teeth, get them to school, but not wake mommy up, because mommy couldn’t get out of bed,” Wright said. “That changed the role between the teacher and that child immediately.”
Wright also told a personal story about a former student of hers who became addicted to opioids and changed from a great student to someone who struggled with honesty, crime and eventually death.
Wright said parents have to be tough on their children and keep an eye on them, regardless of the urge to give them privacy.
“No one grows up or aspires to be an addict,” Wright said. “We have to save our kids.”
Loyd, the medical director at JourneyPure addiction recovery center, detailed the complexities of addiction through his personal experience of practicing medicine, when he became addicted to pain medication 15 years ago.
Loyd warned the audience not to underestimate the power or presence of opioids. He said it is already present in the middle schools and high schools in Wilson County.
Loyd said 73,000 Americans died last year due to drug overdoses, a number he compared to the Vietnam War, where a little more than 58,000 U.S. soldiers died in a nearly 20-year period.
“The reason that we need to discuss this is because it’s the right thing to do,” Loyd said. “We look at addiction, and most people in this room I would bet right now, look at addiction like a moral failure. But I promise you it’s not a moral failure. I think we have to look at it as it really is – a disorder of the brain. It’s not voluntary.”
Tapley’s son died as a result of an opioid overdose after he was injured at work. She said her pain will stay with her for life. She recounted her story of loss that highlights the severity of the crisis and offered to share her story as a way to connect with and support those who struggle with addiction.
Tapley is responsible for DrugFree WilCo’s fruition after she reached out to Hutto, who had a personal relationship with her and her son.
“I just want parents to become aware so they’ll know and they can recognize there’s a problem, and then when they recognize there’s a problem, find a solution,” Tapley said. “I keep telling everybody, as long as you’re here on this earth, there’s still hope, and we need to come together and learn how we can better battle this addiction. We need to recognize it; we need to conquer it, and we need to stop it. That’s why we need to talk about it.”
Moore said school resource officers, who are all sheriff’s deputies, are on the front lines of the issue on school grounds. He echoed the stance that many issues with drugs begin at home and requires parents to be parents.
Moore talked about “Skittles parties” in which groups of children mix various pills in a bowl and then take random mixtures, something that can have unknown and deadly consequences.
Moore said the crisis has impacted youth crimes and drastically impacted the Wilson County Jail, which Moore said has a recidivism rate of 84.3 percent, many of which are drug-related crimes.
“I know that Judge [Barry] Tatum in juvenile court says all the time, ‘nothing good happens after dark.’ I’m going to go ahead and tell you, and every law enforcement agency that’s represented in this building will agree with me, every single night of the week, we’re chasing juveniles stealing cars, doing drugs, breaking into houses – every single night. And as parents, we have to hold ourselves accountable and know where our children are,” Moore said. “I’m frustrated, I’ll go ahead and tell you. As parents, we have to hold ourselves responsible and be proactive.”
Moore also said the sheriff’s office took steps to help curb the epidemic with drug addiction counseling, faith-based programs and Wilson County Drug Court.
Rosson said the drug court is an attempt to help addicts instead of just give them punishment. Rosson spent 14 months in a recovery center, an experience that gave him perspective and understanding of his struggles.
“Wilson County is making attempts and strides at getting help into the jail and helping people. That’s not the case for a lot of jails or prisons. There’s a lot of places where they’re not getting help,” Rosson said.
DrugFree WilCo will continue its public outreach discussions in the coming months and made a long-term commitment to tackle the opioid crisis in Wilson County.
While the coalition admitted there is no easy solution to the crisis, they know that it begins with informing the public of the dangers, the realities and the opportunities for healing and understanding for a crisis that knows no boundaries.
More information about DrugFree WilCo and the resources available for those who struggle with addiction may be found at facebook.com/drugfreewilco.