Trish Bennett, Editor
CIRCLEVILLE – Organizers of a community forum on opiate addiction Tuesday said they couldn’t be more pleased with the number of people who crowded the municipal courtroom for the event, and feedback provided will help shape the strategy to combat drug addiction in the immediate future.
“Some of the feedback showed us steps we can take to help the community with this problem,” said Jason McGowan, chief probation officer for Circleville Municipal Court. “For instance, there are no local support groups for parents right now. That was a hot issue last night. We’re going to get to work on that and get something set up relatively soon.”
People in attendance Tuesday ranged from current and recovering addicts, to family members of those suffering from addiction, to volunteers and officials from a number of treatment and support groups offering their services.
McGowan said he was surprised and grateful for the turnout, as well as the cross-section of Pickaway County residents who came to learn and share their experiences.
“There was a great variety, a mixture of people that went beyond my expectations,” he said. “We got a lot of great feedback from all different angles, and I didn’t expect that at all.”
Featured speakers at the forum were Melissa and Jennifer, two recovering heroin addicts who shared the story of their journey through addiction and recovery, along with Jennifer’s mother, who spoke about the toll drug addiction had on her family.
For Melissa, addiction began with a broken leg and Percocet prescribed during her recovery. As addiction set in and the cost of Percocet became “outrageous,” she said she was introduced to heroin as a cheaper pain solution.
Melissa ended up at the Pickaway County Jail for a 15-day sentence that turned into 60 days waiting for an available bed at a nearby treatment facility. As of Tuesday’s forum, she proudly reported she was 406 days clean.
For Jennifer, the road to addiction began at age 14 with Anorexia, which led to marijuana, which led to the wrong men, then pills and heroin. She admitted to lying and stealing from her family and her own children to the point where she was cut from their lives, leaving her alone and homeless.
Jennifer spent 360 days in the county jail and an 18-month sentence at Marysville Reformatory for Women before finally turning to the Pickaway Area Recovery Services (PARS) for help. As of Tuesday’s forum, she reported she was five years and 11 months clean.
Drug addiction affects people from all walks of life, McGowan said, and springs from a variety of circumstances.
“Sometimes it’s people who have problems at home or whatever, but we’re finding the middle class is being affected the most,” he said. “It doesn’t discriminate, though, that’s for sure.”
Speakers talked about physical signs of drug addiction, including withdrawal, weight loss and mood changes, as well household signs like missing or damaged spoons, Q-tip ends, sections of straws, pieces of balloons, Brillo pads and other random items.
They also spoke about the importance of not enabling a drug addict to continue their addiction by offering money, comfort or other support that will not motivate them to seek a change.
“Enabling us is only helping us die quicker,” Jennifer said.
Barry Bennett, director of PARS, agreed and reiterated that addicts must want treatment before it can be truly effective.
“The pain of the consequences has to outweigh the pleasure of the drug,” Bennett said. “A lot of times it just doesn’t work until they get in trouble. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids. It means you love them more.”
Organizers spoke about treatment programs and support groups that are available locally and admitted to learning about others they knew nothing about at Tuesday’s forum.
One such group, the Overcomers program, is hosted by Crossroads Church on Tarlton Road and was represented at Tuesday’s meeting by former police chief Wayne Gray.
Another is hosted by the Second Baptist Church on West Mill Street and was represented by church member Vanessa Jones, who told those in attendance the program is free and open to anyone in the community.
“That was something new that came up last night,” McGowan said. “I spoke with her and will set up a meeting with her and the pastor, as well as Wayne Gray and Mike Dennis at Crossroads, and get some things written up. We will definitely utilize those in our strategy to provide those support groups, because it’s important to long-term sobriety.”
McGowan said a list of additional support resources is available through the probation office as well as PARS.
McGowan said the court was planning to hold another community meeting possibly in April, but with the success of Tuesday’s forum, they may try to do it even sooner.
“Once we start getting these things in place, I think it will be important to have another meeting sooner than April, maybe by the end of February,” he said. “I think everyone who came to this one left getting something out of it. As long as they leave with some new knowledge, it’s definitely beneficial.”
This article originally appeared on The Pickaway News Journal