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Sandor Cheka wants every parent to be concerned about drugs on campus at schools.

Cheka's organization works with students to learn about drug culture at schools and to develop anti-drug messages.

“Often times, what we hear about is someone starting with prescription drugs," Cheka said.

Prescription opiate drugs are in the same family as heroin and they produce the same high.

"What we're seeing is kids starting because they think it is a safe high," Cheka said.

He says it's not safe. People can and do die from opiate overdose. 

Last year, the coroner's office says 74 people died in Jefferson County from prescription opioid overdoses. That's the highest overdose rate for that drug in the past 10 years.

Cheka says what can develop from teenage prescription opiate abuse is scary – addiction.

"And eventually they get to the point where they can't go to the doctor and get them or they can't get them from friends and family, so they turn to heroin." Cheka said.

"When I started sitting on the bench  seven years ago, I would see a few heroin cases here or there, so much so that I would say "oh, my god, it's heroin." Now 95 percent of the cases I see are heroin cases where I'm seeing young people addicted to heroin," Judge Shanta Owens added.

In 2015, there were 97 deaths from heroin in Jefferson County.

"If you suspect your child, especially if they are under the age of 18, has a problem, act on it," Cheka said.

Copyright 2016 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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Some health experts across the country are pushing for stricter guidelines when it comes to treating pain in clinics and hospitals.

They sent a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

In it, they said the current standards are contributing to an overuse of addictive pain medicines.

We found doctors here who agree.

Dr. Mark Wilson with the Jefferson County Health Department tells ABC 33/40, prescription pain addiction here is at a "crisis" level. He says re-evaluating these guidelines is only part of the picture. Wilson adds, there has to be a middle ground where we still treat pain adequately, while remaining aware of the risks of addiction.

Those risks are well known by 32-year-old Jonathan Jones.

Jones is a resident at The Foundry in Bessemer. He is a recovering addict. It started when he was prescribed medication for his back pain.

"Once you get started, and get that feeling, it's easy to get hooked on," said Jones. "Everybody is going to have some kind of pain they're going to deal with. Most people think pain meds are the only way. I think it should be a little stricter in how you get it."

Currently, hospitals are required to give surveys to patients asking them to rate their pain. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid rate hospitals by those surveys.

Now, health officials are asking to drop the survey.

Sandor Cheka with the Addiction Prevention Coalition says he is not surprise some medical professionals are stepping up and speaking out.

"You see it across the country. People are really trying to figure out how do we stop this massive opiate epidemic?" said Cheka. "Are we giving them drugs for valid things? Or are we just trying to comfort those who are in a little bit of pain?

Jonathan Jones has this message for those struggling with addiction. "You're not alone. Don't think you're the only one who has to go through these issues."

Dr. Wilson says it will take a lot of resources to get this epidemic under control.

He wants the community to help by getting rid of leftover pain medicines, or keeping them locked up

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Here locally, several organizations work to battle the heroin addiction epidemic.

The Addiction Prevention Coalition works to prevent substance abuse with drug prevention programs -- and connecting people to recovery resources.

They encourage anyone who has a loved one struggling with addiction to take the steps necessary to get help.

For more information to get help for an addiction, you can contact (205) 874-8498. Or you can visit their website here

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As more and more heroin addicts attribute the start of their addiction to legal prescriptions, Christian recovery specialists say parents must take a greater role not only in encouraging their children to avoid drugs but also to address the heart issues that often lead young people to drugs in the first place.

The availability of heroin and other street drugs continues to be a focus of law enforcement in Alabama and the United States. However, the availability of prescription opioid medications is an equally important issue, said J. Sándor Cheka III, executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition in Birmingham.

“Sixty-four percent of our kids are getting their opiates from a friend or family member,” he said. “The question we have to ask is why are so many opiates accessible like that?” 

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ABC 33/40 has learned that naloxone will soon be available over the counter in Alabama at Walgreens pharmacies.

Tinamarie Smith's son struggled with heroin addiction, and is now in recovery. She's in favor of Walgreens carrying naloxone. "Over those past two years, it was the darkest days," Smith said. "I think it would just be one other step that a family member or friend could do to intervene until help did arrive." Smith questions if it is a good idea to make the "heroin antidote" so readily available. "Like anything, people are going to find the bad in it. They're going to use it as a crutch. But hopefully for that one life, maybe it was someone who it was their first time (using), or for someone who really does want to change," she says.

Shandor Cheka with the Addiction Prevention Coalition doesn't believe it's enabling. "Most of the families know what's going on with their child," he said. "They're trying to get them to stop. Maybe it's a spouse, they're trying to get them to stop using. But there are relapses involved, even with people who find recovery." Training will be offered at Walgreens, by pharmacists. Instructions are provided in the packaging. In addition, Walgreens will install medication disposal kiosks to address the problem of prescription drug abuse.

ABC 33/40 also learned nalaxone is covered by most insurance. If not, a single dose will cost $78. Walgreens has not said yet when this program will roll out in Alabama.

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A new twist tonight in the fight against heroin in our communities.

Law enforcement officers warn, the drug is now being disguised as prescription pain pills like Oxycontin or Percocet.

Someone taking these pills might not know what it is, before it is too late.

Right now, we know these pills are in Kentucky, Indiana and Florida. The Shelby County Drug Enforcement Task Force believes it is only a matter of time before these pills find their way here.

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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.”

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The Addiction Prevention Coalition says drug use is of epic proportions in communities across Alabama. Leaders in the Coalition say addiction flourishes in darkness, and that is why they want to bring the epidemic to light.

Early Wednesday morning, dozens of parents, educators and social workers from the Spain Park area attended the first of the four 2016 panel discussions. The breakfast was held at Saint Marks Evangelist Catholic Church.

Dalton Smith and Drew Callner are both young recovering addicts who shared their stories.

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you came from. I was IV heroin, that was my thing,” said Smith.

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It all began with a prescription. Lortab: doctor's orders.

It was 2008, senior year. It would have been the last season Brad Blount dressed out in Vestavia Hills' red and blue and rushed onto the field under the Friday night lights.

Instead, a football injury sent Blount spiraling out of control.

When the diagnosis came in, it didn't look good. A torn rotator cuff and other complications meant Blount would have to sit out during every sport for the entirety of his senior year. No wrestling or football; definitely not baseball.

"I went through an identity crisis," Blount told a packed room at the Vestavia Country Club Thursday morning.

Without sports in his life, Blount said he didn't know what to do or where to turn. He'd dreamed of pitching in college, toeing a clean rubber on perfectly kept mounds, but even before the season began, all of that was cut short. He thought the void left by the lack of sports was the lowest he could feel--until the prescriptions, both the Lortab and then Oxycodone, ran dry.

"I felt low," he explained to the gathered audience at the Addiction Prevention Coalition's "Wake Up!" breakfast. "I became depressed when I was taken off of the medication. I didn't understand what I was feeling."

Other current and former over-the-mountain high school students joined Blount Thursday in sharing their own experiences with drugs and alcohol, including how they became addicted, what helped them to recover, and how and why every parent should talk openly to their kids to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.

In Blount's case, the dominos began to fall in his attempt to level out.

Driven by a desire to feel "normal" again, Blount began seeking out--no matter the price--the effects the prescription opiates had once given him. When it became too difficult to find another pill to pop, Blount turned down an even darker path.

"I ended up becoming a heroin addict," said Blount.

Blount said he lied to his parents, to anyone who ever came between him and his next high, and stole whenever he had a chance. At his lowest, Blount said he could not live through a solid four hours without taking another hit of heroin. It was a constant, everyday nagging, he said.

"There was a time when I believed I would never draw a sober breath again," he said.

And he isn't alone.

Authorities say more people are experimenting with heroin, more than ever with deadly consequences.

A sharp rise in heroin-related deaths across Jefferson County in 2014 left no one immune, according to the Jefferson County Coroner's Office, including Over the Mountain cities like Vestavia Hill.

Heroin deaths in Jefferson County jumped about 140 percent in 2014,'s Carol Robinson reported earlier this month. Homewood, Hoover and Vestavia Hills each reported seven confirmed heroin-related deaths in 2014.

In May 2012, and The Birmingham News first highlighted the growing problem in Jefferson County. In August, "Help the Hills" hosted its first meeting and featured speakers Dale Wisely, Ph.D., David Howard, and Rick Norris, a Vestavia parent whose son, Tripp, was a Vestavia Hills High School grad, a senior at The University of Alabama and an aspiring and talented musician. Tripp died in 2011as a result of a lethal mix of alcohol and street heroin.

On Jan. 5, the Vestavia Hills community once again did its part to ensure its children aren't part of another statistic.

The Vestavia Hills School Board, the Vestavia Hills Police Department, and the Jefferson County Drug Court host a second town hall, "Help the Hills" meeting focused on the "Truth and Consequences of Drug and Alcohol Use"

Availability, purity and the pursuit of a higher high are all to blame for the increase in deaths, experts have said.

Despite the staggering statistics against him, Blount survived.

Deep down, Blount said he knew he had everything a young man needed to become a successful adult: supportive parents, the luxuries of a good school and athletic talent.

"I couldn't ask for any better parents than what God gave me," said the fresh-faced Blount. "God put me in a place with a good family that gave me everything I ever could have wanted, all the support I could have ever needed."

It was that relentless support and love, he said, that helped him sober up.

Today, one-and-a-half years sober, Blount said he believes he must do what is needed in his community: to share his experiences and his long, continuing road to recovery so that other young men and young women might learn from his journey.

"If my story can save one kid's life," he said, "it's absolutely worth me sharing it."

He hopes his message might help others struggling gather some insight such that they and their parents can learn to spot the warning signs and seek help when it is needed.

He warns parents of becoming too comfortable with the thought that drugs could never affect their child.

"Many parents can fall into this mindset of believing what they want to believe," he said. "Don't risk the life of your child by letting things slide."

Open communication is key, said Blount, but it must remain level-headed and come from a place of love.

"Stay away from extreme dramatic statements," he said. Children can eventually figure it out that "pot won't make you immediately stupid."

Shaming, he said, is another no-no.

"Don't need to say things like 'I didn't raise you this way,'" he said. "They already know that you didn't raise them that way." 
Instead, he suggests, parents should watch for the signs: frequent, unexplained disappearances, a drop in grades and loss of interest in activities and sports.

"You can't alter a choice a child is going to make," said Blount, "but you can give them every opportunity to succeed."

According to its Mission Statement, the Addiction Prevention Coalition aims to "help prevent substance abuse by fostering community collaborations, facilitating student led drug prevention programs and expanding access to services."

Thursday, the Coalition presented its first "Community Impact Award" to the City of Vestavia Hills, in recognition of "their outstanding collaborative efforts to fight substance abuse within their area."

For more about the APC, and for information about how to get involved, click here.

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By Darcelle Hall

VESTAVIA HILLS, Ala. (WIAT) – Drug use is becoming a growing problems for students in area schools. While no parent wants to think about their child ever using or becoming addicted to illegal drugs, one area organization wants everyone to “Wake Up” and see what’s going in their community.

The coalition hosted its annual “Wake Up!” breakfast Thursday in Vestavia. During the event, the coalition presented its first-ever “Community Impact Award” to the City of Vestavia. the award was created to recognize those whose efforts aid in the fight against drugs. Vestavia Hills High and former graduate Brad Blount teamed up to create an anti-drug campaign, the first of its type for over-the-mountain schools.

Blount then took the opportunity to share his story of drug abuse, and how it eventually escalated to heroin use.

Click here for more information on the Addiction Prevention Coalition.



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By Sarah Snyder

A deadly drug is hitting epidemic proportions. Heroin is causing concerns throughout Central Alabama. You may think it doesn't affect you, but it does. It's taking firefighters and police officers off the streets - dealing with almost daily overdoses.
"Our runs on these types of incidents are higher than we've ever had," Rusty Lowe, Executive Officer, Hoover Fire Department said.

Hoover Fire and Rescue says an injection - called Narcan - reverses the effects of opiates like Heroin. Because of the re-surgence of Heroin it's in high demand and often hard to come by.  

"We keep a good stock of it because we know we will use it on a regular basis," Lowe said.

Once that high goes away, often patients become violent retaliating on the very ones who saved their lives.

"Usually people are grateful for what we do, but now that we know the patients can become violent, we prepare ourselves for it and know that's a possibility," Lowe said.

"The job they have to do is so difficult because with this new boom of Heroin, I've talked to firefighters who say they go on these calls every day, twice a day," Danny Molloy, a former Heroin addict said.

"In high school I started smoking marijuana, drinking, and it quickly escalated," Molloy told ABC 33/40. "It's literally like rolling the dice with your life. It's Russian Roulette. It's so dangerous and it's so available right now and it's become an epidemic really."

It was a group of  firefighters and paramedics -- who saved Danny Molloy's life.  

"I passed out and woke up in a full seizure, got the phone, dialed 911 and was convulsing," he said. "I woke up in the hospital. The first responders were still there and they were talking to me saying you need to stop doing drugs - you almost died. I honestly believe if I had not called 911 and had they not shown up that night, that I would probably be dead."

Molloy now works with the Addiction Prevention Coalition - helping young adults and high school students avoid the same mistakes he made.

"The reason it's so addictive is because it feels so good, but it feels good for a short period of time," Molloy said. "Eventually your body can't handle the amount of heroin you need to get high - that's where you see overdoses happen."

"It's happening in Hoover, Mountain Brook, Vestavia, it's happening everywhere," Lowe said. "Heroin sees no boundaries. It's been eye-opening for all of us but it's almost second nature to us now to respond to these situations."

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By Ana Rodriguez | 

Vestavia Hills High School graduate Brad Blount said he had everything a young man needed to become a successful adult: supportive parents, the luxuries of a good school and talent on the football field.

"I couldn't ask for any better parents than what God gave me," said the fresh-faced Blount in a recent video interview. "God put me in a place with a good family that gave me everything I ever could have wanted, all the support I could have ever needed."

From the outside, he said, it looked like everything was on a positive track.

Then something went terribly wrong.

"I ended up becoming a heroin addict," said Blount, as his blue eyes shifted away from the camera.

The video, available below, was filmed as a promotional piece for the upcoming Addiction Prevention Coalition's "Wake Up!" breakfast. 

It only shows part of the story, however.


Blount will share the rest Thursday, Jan. 29 from 8-9 a.m. during the breakfast at Vestavia Country Club, 400 Beaumont Drive.

Other current and former over-the-mountain high school students will join Blount in sharing their own experiences with drugs and alcohol, including how they became addicted, what helped them to recover, and how and why every parent should talk openly to their kids to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.

The Addiction Prevention Coalition will also present its first "Community Impact Award" to the City of Vestavia Hills, in recognition of "their outstanding collaborative efforts to fight substance abuse within their area," according to a news release about the event.

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By Tachana Johnson

Making sure Central Alabama children stay drug-free is the goal of one local organization. 

The Addiction Prevention Coalition will host a free wake up breakfast on January 29th beginning at 8 a.m. It will be held at the Vestavia Country Club on 400 Beaumont Drive in Birmingham. Organizers say local teenagers will teach the adults what to look for and how to talk with them about substance abuse.

To RSVP for the program, go to or call 205-874-8498.

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala (WIAT) — More than a hundred people have died from prescription drug overdoses in Jefferson County this year.  The problem is so bad that more people have overdosed or died because of prescription drugs in Jefferson County than have been killed in all the homicides in our entire viewing area combined.

Copyright 2014 WIAT 42 News

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Jeffco. Addiction Prevention Coalition holds 'Wake up' breakfast in Birmingham

Source: WBRC videoSource: WBRC video


Addiction Prevention Coalition in Jefferson County is trying to get the word out about how prevalent drug abuse is in our communities.

They had a "wake up" breakfast Thursday morning at the Junior League of Birmingham auditorium. They had parents talk about how drugs have affected their family.

They also had students talk about what they're facing at school. Students told the group how easy it is to get their hands on drugs.

"All schools are different and depending on what drug it's going to be different but what we are hearing from our students is that they know multiple people they can go buy from. Traditionally it's been one person in that school they know they can go to buy drugs but really anybody can get it from anyone else in their schools," Sandor Cheka said

Sandor Cheka says right now there are 122-thousand people in central Alabama needing drug abuse treatment.

For more resources and information you can go to

Copyright 2014 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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"Black Pearl"

Tonya Yates, pictured here with mother Tammy, has brighter days ahead and doesn’t define herself by her past drug use.

Tonya Yates, pictured here with mother Tammy, has brighter days ahead and doesn’t define herself by her past drug use.

In recent years, the entire country has seen a rise in heroin abuse, and Alabama is no exception.

Written by Tom Gordon


Heroin, be the death of me
Heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life

-Lou Reed, “Heroin”


When he was elected to the Alabama House of Representatives in 2006, Allen Treadaway’s top legislative priorities did not include giving more people the authority to administer a drug known as Naloxone to bring someone back from a possibly fatal overdose of heroin. But when the Legislature convenes next March, the Jefferson County Republican plans to push a bill that will do just that and for a very simple reason. “With what we’re seeing, the increase in the use of heroin, I think we’ve got to get this out there,” Treadaway says.

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BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - There has been an increase in the last few years of heroin use, say several experts who were present at a panel in the Junior Le...

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Birmingham, AL., April 4, 2014 – A local organization is co-sponsoring a marijuana education forum in Montgomery this week to discuss outcomes...

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"We had a drug abuse problem in my family, too," said Sandor Cheka, executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition. "I saw first-hand what i...

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Birmingham, AL– The Addiction Prevention Coalition, a local agency focused on preventing youth drug abuse through peer-led programs in high schools, a...

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addiction coalition AWARDED $125,000 GRANT to PREVENT YOUTH SUBSTANCE ABUSE IN BIRMINGHAM   Agency Rebrands as Addiction Preve...

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The Addiction Prevention Coalition, a local agency dedicated to fighting drug abuse and providing treatment resources for area youth and adults, invit...

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