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Warriors wanted: the battle of addiction

The Americus-Times Recorder will fight the battle of addiction by using our strengths. In the weeks ahead, we will be shining some light on a topic very much worthy of our attention. It is our hope you will invest some energy into joining our research into addiction, in most cases, specifically to our battle with opioids. Addiction is a powerful and cunning disease. It is well hidden behind shame, stigma, fear, and other circumstances which do not allow a person the ability to seek treatment. Because of these factors, the significance of addiction is a difficult picture to present and under-reporting is a problem. While struggling to offer the truest picture of addiction, the information we do have is alarming. The Georgia Department of Public Health compared the timeframe of March 14, 2019—January 31, 2020 to March 14, 2020—January 31, 2021. The data indicates opioid related emergency room visits have increased 56.6% over the last year. Heroin involved visits have increased by 65.8%. Death rates are trending higher. Compared to the same period in 2019, March 14, 2020—August 31, 2020 opioid overdoses increased 58.3%, while fentanyl overdoses increased by 160.9%.  This reporting reflects Georgia only, and does not include incidents and overdoses related to other drugs and alcohol.

Georgia is not the only state needing to address the opioid crisis. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA’s mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. In their efforts to educate the public, they offer data on a national scale. According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2018, approximately 10.3 million people aged 12 or older misused opioids in the past year. In addition, approximately 2.1 million people aged 12 or older had an opioid use disorder (OUD). SAMHSA reports: “The misuse of prescription opioids and use of heroin is one of the most significant public health issues in the United States. Opioid abuse claims more lives than motor vehicle crashes.”  The front-line weapon we have is awareness. To be shrouded in stigma and practice a “head in the sand” mentality is not helpful in providing some much-needed support and relief to addiction. The fact is, even in Sumter County, some of our neighbors are paying an extremely painful price for a condition which the medical community approaches as a disease. Often the community will see those suffering from addictions as morally bankrupt or suggest self-will/discipline as a treatment model. To do so, at best, is of little use, at worse, it has the potential to further harm. So how do we shine a light on addiction? How do we bring our best to those who are experiencing an alcohol or drug problem? We become familiar with the dynamics of the disease. There are people suffering in our community, start here. Statistics bear out the fact the monster of addiction is in our community. Chief Mark Scott of the Americus Police Department spoke his truth from behind his desk at the Americus Police Department as recently as mid-April. “Over the past two weeks, three people have died here in Americus from apparent drug overdoses.”  He further added, “Having policed during the crack cocaine era of the 1990’s I well remember the struggle to arrest and prosecute drug traffickers and dealers while simultaneously trying to help their clients break the vicious cycle of addiction. Now, 30 years later, we’re seeing a different type of addiction that’s much more deadly.  We have recently seized quantities of heroin and cocaine locally along with fake prescription pills laced with Fentanyl.  These pills are made to look like prescription drugs such as Xanax or Percocet, but actually contain varying quantities of Fentanyl, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, depending on how it is manufactured.  Simply handling these illegal drugs can result in an overdose as the drug is readily absorbed through the skin.”  A few days after addressing three deaths, the Americus Police Department made us aware of the fact they had made a significantly large drug seizure including drugs which have field tested positive for opioids. The large seizure was not a result of a long-established “sting.” The seizure was made secondary to a motor vehicle violation. As is indicative in Chief Scott’s press releases, it is important to know, we are going to have to fight the battle of addiction. As a warrior on the front lines of the disease, I suggest putting on your armor.

We submit the following questions to ponder regarding addiction: Do you know what to look for? What are some of the indicators of the disease? Have you predetermined your willingness to be a resource? Should someone in your world express a desire to start the journey of overcoming an addiction, would you know a good first step? How important is the power of a support system? Professionals who commonly treat addiction know, “the opposite of addiction is connection.” Support systems, whether they be professional, or lay-persons, are phenomenally powerful in influencing recovery. Lastly, perhaps you do not currently know someone struggling with addiction. Would you know how or why the loved ones of someone active in their disease would need relief also? Addiction is a very lonely disease; however, it is extremely dangerous and will put its claws in the people around the person using. Do you know how to best support the family of someone struggling with an active addiction? Knowing how to support “the people who are taking care of the people” is a wonderful and well sought-after gift to bring to the table of recovery.

The ATR will be presenting information we hope will better enable you to answer these questions. Joined by others who can speak with veracity to the disease, we will offer insight into this disease. It is the ATR’s hope you will put your armor on and confront the battle of addiction with your personal strengths and talents. It is a battle well worth fighting and one that requires willing warriors.