Community members discussed steps toward fighting substance abuse during a Whatever It Takes forum.
The forum took place at Shades Crest Baptist Church on Monday, Sept. 28 as a way to work toward a plan against drug addiction.
Sandor Cheka, executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition, started the conversation by discussing some of addiction’s underlying causes. One issue behind addiction, Cheka said, is the “conspiracy of silence.” This problem stems from a desire to hide the bad in life and to avoid conversations about addiction.
“It doesn’t matter who we are or what we do, we don’t like to share our problems,” Cheka said. “We like to put on this façade of ‘everything’s perfect.’”
Avoiding these important conversations because of guilt and shame can lead to more damage and continued addiction, Cheka said. Parents also face these feelings and sometimes won’t reach out for help or ask about resources for their children.
“Even if you’re the best parent in the world, your child is their own decision maker,” Cheka said.
One parent, Ralph Proctor, spoke up about the importance of discussing the disease of addiction. He said adding that to the conversation led children and students to realize the importance of coming forward when they or a friend need help.
“If your children don’t understand what addiction is, once they do, once they understand, ‘Hey, my buddy’s drinking, now he’s drinking a lot, now he’s taking pills,’ they are a lot more apt to come to you and say, ‘I think my buddy might have a problem,’” Proctor said. “They won’t come to you and say, ‘Hey, we went out drinking last night,’ but if a guy or a girl starts going too far, they understand this person may have the disease.”
In addition to opening up the conversation, Cheka said it is necessary to strengthen relationships in the community. One need is trying to rebuild or build upon connections with local businesses, law enforcement, grant programs and other resources.
“It’s not that you don’t have those connections already,” Cheka said. “It’s just about either really ramping those up or how you could use that information sharing a lot more effectively.”
Some programs are in place at schools in the area and with Hoover police, including the prescription drug take-back program that collected around 197 pounds of medication on Sept. 26, but furthering those connections will help fight against substance abuse, Cheka said.
Capt. Gregg Rector said one issue in the community is a lack of resources. Even if police intervene and find someone willing to get help, they might not be able to receive help immediately.
“We have the opportunity to come across people every week that are addicted,” Rector said. “Occasionally these people aren’t going to jail. When they aren’t going to jail, we occasionally have people say to us, ‘I want help … I need help.’ Some of the biggest frustration I see is being able to give that person the right referrals.”
Factors such as insurance and availability affect how many willing patients can receive care. Cheka said while there are around 122,000 people who need help with addiction, they only have around 13,000 beds to treat them.
Capt. Janie Neill, commander of the Hoover PD field operations bureau, said the next step is putting a plan into action. Other audience members agreed with her, including Brian Cain, principal at Simmons Middle School.
“We need to shut up talking about what the problem is,” Cain said. “I think we need to get a bunch of people in a bunch of rooms and develop who wants to build this group and do this thing and get busy.”
Cain gave his phone number to attendees, asking them to text him if they were interested in establishing a meeting time at Simmons Middle School.
“If only three of us want to do it, that’s three more than were doing it last week,” Cain said.
There will also be a district-wide event called “Let’s Keep Talking” on Oct. 20. The event will include several presentations on addiction, anxiety and social media trends. It will be at Crossroads School on Old Columbiana Road from 6-8 p.m.