Symposium engages the community

Published 12:51 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brings together legal, faith based groups

Lawrence County Prosecutor Brigham Anderson, and Common Pleas Court Judges Charles Cooper, Andrew Ballard and David Payne, brought the community together in South Point last Thursday to hear stories from those whose lives have been impacted by addiction, to discuss strategies for engaging the community, and to answer community questions about addiction, prevention, and recovery.

“To really solve this problem, the community has to be involved,” Anderson told the crowd as the evening began. “This is not something law enforcement can do… there is no way a drug court or prosecutor’s program (can solve this)… unless you, the community, get involved.”

Engagement and involvement were the themes of the evening.

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For Ballard, that means a sea change in the way we approach addiction. While, as a judge, he understands the need for legal recourse, he explained that simply arresting drug dealers and users isn’t the answer. Nor is the narrow focus of removing drugs from the street. Instead, he explained, the community needs to focus on removing the demand for drugs rather than just focusing on the supply side.

“Drug dealing is capitalism at its finest,” Ballard said. “There will always be a supply if there is a demand.”

But fixing the issue with demand requires understanding the problem fully, and what motivates addicts to continue using, including unique social and cultural stressors.

“No one can come in from outside and fix this,” Ballard said. “We need to do it. We need to come together as a community… and help those in need with recovery.

“It will not be fixed overnight,” he continued. “It will not be fixed by government. It will not be an ‘ABC’ plan. It needs to be individualized, and it needs to include more opportunities (for jobs, education, etc.)”

Pastor Rick Sturgill, who lost his son to addiction and whose ministry is aimed at addicts, said that for the community, both the faith community and the broader community, “it’s about taking on the trouble of the troubled.”

He explained that he understands that it can be hard.

“I used to be a parent,” he said. “(But) sometimes we become the co-dependents and the enablers (to our loved ones), when we thought we were doing what was right.”

Brandy Kennedy also talked to the crowd about her journey to addiction, to overcoming addiction, and how her life has improved since.

Kennedy was an addict for eight years, after taking her first Lortab from a co-worker for cramps. She said she realized within a year that she was a “full-blown addict” and that “without pain pills, I could not function.”

Within four years of taking that first pill, she began using heroin. But it would be another four years before she got “tired of being sick and tired,” and in April of 2014, she went into treatment.

“I deserve a better life,” she said. “My kids deserve a better life.”

It’s only when people decide, as Kennedy did, that they deserve and want better that changes can occur, Anderson explained.

“(Sending them to prison) doesn’t do any good,” Anderson said. But connecting with them on a personal basis does.

“There’s a million things you can do to connect with people,” Ballard added.

For Ohio State Patrol Trooper Josh Craft, that connection came after years of work as a police officer lead him to understand that addicts “are not chasing the high,” but rather, “they’re running from the withdrawal.” A view that Ballard said made an impression on him.

Craft said that when he first got into law enforcement he was, like many other community members, judgmental towards addicts. However working with addicts, and watching them repeats the same patterns, changed his perspective.

“If you’re an addict in here, I want to apologize to your face,” Craft said. “I was judgmental.”

Craft also echoed Anderson’s and Ballard’s sentiments about shifting the focus of our drug policies from punitive to rehabilitative.

“We’ve got to heal them,” Craft said, “and jails not going to do that.”

What can do that, Ballard added, is giving young people the tools to make good decisions themselves when it comes to drug use.

Simply telling them not to do it doesn’t work, he explained, and in some cases it can actually make young people want to do something, just because it has been forbidden.

He said that he knew from his own experience that sometimes “if you tell kids not to do something, they will do it.”

“You’ve got to empower young people to make these decisions themselves,” Ballard said.

He said that we also have to support our young people and our struggling families, with pro-social events to encourage building healthy relationships. This also includes helping those families who might rely on the free lunch program their school offers to feed their children during the school year with free summer feeding programs.

Acts that support and uplift families, and make them feel like valued members of their community, Ballard explained, can have long lasting and far reaching consequences, especially for the children involved.

“This is where the community can come together,” Ballard said, “and the child is going to remember that.”

He also decried the mindset that says we need to abandon addicts to their own devices and write them off, an attitude that sometimes surfaces as an opposition to providing emergency first responders with Narcan.

Ballard said that, as a father himself, even if he didn’t agree with the choices his child made, he didn’t want to see them die because of their decisions.

“If you have to Narcan a child 10 times until you can help them, Narcan them,” he said. “Because I’m never going to give up on my child.”

And he said that he doesn’t want to give up on anyone else’s child either.

The group gathered for the meeting continued to ask questions of the panel, which included Ballard, Anderson, Craft, Dr. Shannon Browning, RPh, MD, superintendent Dean Nance of Ironton City Schools, and prosecutor diversion coordinator Josh Whaley, discussing issues such as housing for recovering addicts, nutrition programs, and pro-social programs organized through faith-based groups and business partnerships, continuing the event for over half an hour past its scheduled close time.

Ballard finally closed the evening inviting those interested to continue engaging and to return for future events.

“Thanks you for taking this first step with us,” Ballard said, “and let’s keep on walking.”