The Addiction Prevention Coalition is encouraging community members to “wake up” about the realities of addiction.
APC hosted a breakfast on Jan. 13 to discuss the growing problem of heroin addiction and overdose in Jefferson County and nationwide. At the breakfast, held at St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church, APC Executive Director Sandor Cheka discussed their goals for the community.
Cheka said APC talks with students to ensure discussions on drug use or addiction fit their experience, rather than using a one-size-fits-all federal curriculum.
“What happens at Spain Park, what happens at Hoover and Vestavia and Mountain Brook are very different from each other because they all have their own cultures internally,” Cheka said. “They all have their own things they do differently. They all have their own drugs of choice.”
During the program, four recovering addicts spoke. Danny Molloy, APC program support specialist, spoke to the crowd about opening up to conversations on addiction. He said one step is to recognize the problem facing schools and students and to recognize that deaths from opiate overdoses have risen dramatically.
“We’re at the schools talking to kids about what’s going on, which is eye-opening to me,” Molloy said. “We get these phone calls where we change people’s voices, we get the phone calls from kids who are spilling the beans about the drug culture in the school, and you think it’s out of a movie.”
Molloy grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and struggled with drug and alcohol addiction for 15 years. He compared addiction to swimming under water and desperately seeking the surface for a breath of air.
When someone recovers from addiction and breaks the surface of that water, Molloy said, people should recognize their accomplishment. He said that society’s view on addiction hurts those hoping to recover.
“We have an issue. We have a problem. Society has painted addiction with a shame-colored paint,” Molloy said. “And the people we should be calling on as heroes, we actually put shame and condemnation on them.”
After speaking, Molloy introduced Dalton Smith and Drew Callner, two recovering heroin addicts who were speaking on the day’s panel.
“I came out of addiction, 31 years old,” Molloy said. “When I see young people coming out in recovery, and they say, ‘You know what, I’m not only going to come out of this, but I’m going to make a difference,’ I get fired up. Because they’re going to save a whole different generation than I could reach.”
Smith, a former Spain Park student, and Callner discussed their paths to heroin addiction. They both entered paths of escalating drug use, moving from drinking to smoking marijuana to using harder drugs.
Callner said he had a hard time fitting in during middle school, so when he got to high school one of his goals was to find a group.
“I really just wanted to do anything to fit in, so I looked up to the seniors, and all the seniors were doing drugs and running around,” he said. “So I started smoking weed, and that really brought me into this culture.”
They also addressed how parents can deal with conversations about addiction with their kids. Both Smith and Callner encouraged talking openly and for parents to be loving but firm rather than fall into the “cool parent” mentality.
“I’ve seen parents be the ‘cool parents,’ and their kids still turn out as addicts or be strict, and it’s just as bad,” Callner said. “So it needs to be that median with those boundaries set.”
Callner also said parents should trust their gut and not attribute behaviors that seem strange to basic adolescence.
“I think it would basically just be a gut feeling,” he said. “If something seems off about your kid, you might want to explore that rather than just thinking you know the answer.”
The next APC “Wake Up” breakfast will be Feb. 23 at lunchtime. The event will be held at Shades Crest Baptist Church, and Smith's mom will speak about her experience having a child fighting addiction.