MADISON – Hundreds of people packed the Boone County Circuit Court in Madison to participate in a 25th Judicial District Adult and Juvenile Drug Court Community Outreach Meeting on Tuesday, May 6, to talk about ways to attack the drug epidemic problem facing Boone County.
“Illegal substance abuse in the biggest problem facing our communities in Boone County,” said 25th Judicial District Circuit Judge William Thompson. “At least 80 to 85 percent of all crime in Boone County can be directly or indirectly linked to drug and alcohol abuse.”
Speakers, panelists, public officials, and citizens participating in the two-hour long meeting all agreed the local drug abuse problem is pervasive and won’t be easily solved.
“Talking about the drug abuse issue and finding ways to deal with it was precisely why we are having this meeting,” Thompson said. “I am happy to see so many people here and so many churches represented. You are the leaders of our community and we need your help.”
Thompson talked about how the court system and law enforcement are addressing the drug epidemic.
“As good as these law enforcement men and women are, we can’t arrest our way out of the problem,” he said. “We have a good Drug Court program and wonderful probation officers. We have community outreach organizations and other programs to help addicts, but we must come together with a spirit of resolve to attack the problem together.”
Thompson asked the local churches and members of the community in Boone County to get involved.
“Our local churches can help us to make a difference,” he said.
Thompson added that the three issues facing the county in helping addicts was a lack of housing, a lack of support and a shortage of activities.
“I am just asking for local churches to get involved and to open up their doors and help lead some of these group meetings, provide housing and sober living homes, and offer activities and resources that they have available,” he said. “The entire community must get involved to start to turn it around. We are losing generations of people and families to this problem.”
Speakers included Tim White, the regional coordinator for Prestera Center.
“Parents must get involved and talk to their children about the dangers of drugs, alcohol and tobacco,” he said. “Most kids I talk to say they have easy access to all of these things right in their own homes. Moms and dads are not necessarily giving it to them, but they are taking it from the home.”
White said every third Thursday of the month at noon; meetings take place at the Fountain of Life Worship Center to talk about these issues and solutions.
“Anyone is welcome to attend,” White said. “We have a much energized grass-roots effort trying to deal with this epidemic.”
White said West Virginia leads the nation in terms of those who lose their lives due to drug overdoses, and Boone County is near, or at the top of the county list in the state.
In the past couple of years, progress has been made attacking the so-called pill mills which has helped in the battle against the abuse of prescription drugs, White added.
“However, it still remains a problem and many drug users have simply switched over to Heroin, which provides the same opiate-based effect while also being cheaper to acquire,” he said.
White said, “Boone County and Southern West Virginia are among the hardest-hit areas for substance abuse” and described the impacts as “devastating.”
White provided statistics which showed a disproportionate amount of opiate-based prescription drugs are prescribed in the United States when compared with other nations. This is in line with a medical approach in the U.S. which began in the 1990’s to be more aggressive in treating pain.
White noted the U.S. has 4.5 percent of the world’s population, but prescribes the majority of opiate-based drugs in the world.
Other speakers included Drug Court graduates that told stories of redemption and how they were able to turn their lives around and live sober.
Chelsea Carter told her story of nearly overdosing and facing a large amount of prison time to freeing herself from addiction, going to college and earning a Bachelor’s Degree.
“I starting smoking pot in the 6th grade, then by the time I was a teenager I was shooting up heroin,” she said. “I lied and hurt my family and would do anything to get the next high. My parents loved and supported me, but I had to make the decision to change my life and I did.”
Carter, who has been sober since Sept. 2008, is now an addiction counselor and also attending Concord working on her Master’s Degree in social services.
“Addicts need someone to tell them they need to get their life together and the addict must want a better life,” she explained. “I want to help others that are in the same position I was in and show them they are valued and they can have a better life.”
Carter said the drug problem is not isolated to one group, and that drugs were an equal opportunity destroyer.
“As a drug addict you give your life to something that doesn’t care about you,” she said. “It only takes everything and everyone from you. Is it worth it?”
Josh Donahue said he was a felon, drug addict and alcoholic.
“Once I got out of prison and had the chance to get into a program, I focused on God and healthy living,” he said. “It took six months just to get my mind right. My family and friends had given up on me. I had burned all my bridges. Then I went to a sober living home and it changed my life forever.”
Donahue said he learned simple tasks, like making his bed and keeping his room neat and clean. Then had to get a job and pay bills.
“I never thought just learning how to make my bed and keeping my room clean would help me to stay off drugs and alcohol, but it did,” he explained. “It gave me a sense of pride in myself. For the first time in a long time, I felt good about myself, and then I just turned my life over to God. I asked Him to help me and He did.”
Speaker Richie Schultz, Pastor of Lick Creek Community Church, said the meeting offered a tremendous challenge to the local church community to bring themselves together to deal with this major issue.
“We must stop letting these denominational boundaries keep us from pulling together,” he said. “Our church has started a 12-step faith-based program and we want to help others learn and get the education they need to be able to offer this at their church as well.”
Schultz said the churches in Boone County have tremendous influence in the community.
“Just think what we could do if we all came together to attack this problem and save our children and community,” he said. “We are all here to be part of the solution.”
There were several other churches, community organizations and citizens who demonstrated their interest and support by attending the town hall-style meeting.
Some of those attending said churches must not make drug addicts feel judged condemned or like outcasts.
“That’s why many will not come to church,” one woman said. “They think they are being judged and talked about. We must welcome them with open arms.”
“What we are doing at this meeting is not typical,” Shultz assessed. “We have good participation and this is a shining example of what is possible if we all come together. It takes all of us coming together like we are at this meeting. There is much work to do, and this is just the beginning.”
Participants agreed there are no magical solutions to the drug problem, but that attacking it from all angles with the entire community and local churches involved was necessary. Most agreed that prevention and education would be the most effective approaches.
“There is just not much education in our schools about drugs and alcohol, and I wonder why?” one lady asked.
Many called on the Boone County school system to also get involved and bring back programs like D.A.R.E. or Scared Straight, which is used in other states.
“Prevention, education and rehabilitation are the keys to solving the problem of drug abuse,” Thompson added. “Prevention would be much less costly than treatment; rehabilitation is less costly than prison. But education and involvement is the key to eradicate this problem.”
“Government and law enforcement can’t solve this problem,” he said. “But if we can provide more education and resources it will help attack it,” Thompson stated. “We’ve got to find a way to solve this problem and having conversations, like we are doing at this meeting is one way to get started. I am hoping this meeting is the beginning of something big.”
Thompson added that a Facebook page was being developed “25th Judicial District Adult and Juvenile Drug Court Community Outreach Meeting” which would offer information and upcoming meeting dates.
Faith-based recoveries help for Boone County and surrounding areas:
• 12-step Faith-Based Classes will be offered at Prestera at Lick Creek Road in Danville on Fridays at noon starting on Friday, May 16. These classes are open to the public.
• Lifeline 12-step classes: Coordinator Connie Gore 304-369-6933 or coordinator Vickie Smith 304-785-5097.
• Celebrate Recovery Classes: Coordinator Barbra Harden 304-752-3971.
• Recovery Group of Southern WV: Coordinator Pete Browning 304-239-6163. www.recoveryswv.org
• Once Voice (Prayer & Referral) Pineville, WV/Beckley, WV: 304-732-7701 or 681-238-5724. www.onevoicewv.com
• Lifehouse Sober House (men/women) Huntington, WV: Rocky Meadows 304-415-5000. www.thelifehousewv.com
• The Rock Sober House (men) Teays Valley, WV: Shelia Martin 304-437-2625.
• Crossroad’s Recovery Home (women) Gilbert, WV: 304-664-2700. www.drugfreemingo.org
• Chad’s Hope Recovery Home (men) KY: 606-599-9716. www.chadshopeky.com
• Karen’s Place Recovery Home (women) KY: 606-244-0345. www.karenplace.com
• Teen Challenge Inpatient (men/women/teen) KY: 502-561-2131. www.teenchallengeusa.com