By Tim Gardner
A first-hand account of the dangers of addiction and the increasing frequency of drug abuse was given during the initial Tri-Counties meeting of the International Overdose Awareness Day, August 31.
Approximately 200 attended the event held in the Kathy Miller Auditorium at Mitchell High School in Ledger.
Elected officials and community leaders from Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties gathered to acknowledge drug addiction and remember residents of the area who have died from a drug overdose or another drug-related death.
A brochure of the event noted that almost everyone knows someone who has battled drug addiction, suffered an injury from it or even died from an overdose. It may be someone’s father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother, husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, hero or just a friend in general.
International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD) is a global event held on August 31st each year, aiming to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have met with death or permanent injury as a result of drug overdose. Overdose Day spreads the message that the tragedy of overdose death is preventable and that it causes more deaths than guns and vehicle accidents combined.
Opioids—prescription and illegal—are the main driver of drug overdose deaths. They were either the exact cause or a contributing cause to a whopping 33,091 deaths in 2015. Opioid overdoses have quadrupled since 1999. And deaths in North Carolina related to drug overdose increased by as much as 14.5 percent in 2014-15 and have steadily been on the rise for much of the past several years. According to local authorities, there has been a steady increase in illegal drugs the tri-counties during the past decade.
The Tri-Counties event was proposed by Reverend Bruce Cannon of Bear Creek Baptist Church in Ledger and organized by Mitchell County Manager Kathy Young, Mitchell County Commission chairman Matthew Vern Grindstaff and Mitchell Chief Deputy Josh Sparks.
Young, also a Mitchell Board of Education member, said: “There is a really bad drug problem in the tri-counties. Our overdose awareness event reflects a unified front. We will work collectively to try to further educate the citizens of these counties from young school ages to older adults about drug abuse and to do all we can to help stop it.”
She noted that the Overdose Awareness Event will be held each August 31 at a site in either Avery, Mitchell or Yancey County. Young added that if August 31 falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the event will be held as close to that date as possible.
This year’s event was well-represented by government, judicial and other officials. Those from the state and regional levels included: State Representative Josh Dobson; Chief District Court Judge Ted McEntyre; District Court Judge Rebecca Eggers-Gryder; and District Attorney Seth Banks. Officials there from Avery County included: Commissioners Martha Hicks; Blake Vance; Faye Lacey; and Wood Hall (Woody) Young, Jr.; County Manager Phillip Barrier; and Sheriff Kevin Frye. Besides Young, Grindstaff and Sparks, Mitchell was represented by Commissioners Keith Holtsclaw; Danny Burleson: and Jacob Willis, who also works as a drug addiction and grief counselor. Additionally, Bakersville Mayor Charles Vines; Spruce Mayor Darla Phillips Harding; and Mitchell Sheriff Donald Street attended. Yancey’s representation included Commissioner Johnny Riddle and County Manager Nathan Bennett.
Banks said after seeing numerous substance abuse cases, he started to believe there is little, if any, hope.
“But I discovered that there is hope,” he proclaimed. “We can’t arrest and charge our way out of this problem. It will have to come through community partnerships and support for those incarcerated where we can make a difference.”
Dobson told the audience what is being, and could be, accomplished among his fellow-state lawmakers to combat the drug problem.
A highlight of the event was testimonies given by two Mitchell County residents– Cassie Tipton-York and Josh Wise– who defeated drug addiction.
“Nobody plans addition, it just happens,” Tipton-York stated. “I sacrificed everything: my family, my home, my children, and the values my family and community had instilled in me. Addition makes no sense for anyone.”
Tipton-York began her drug addition by abusing alcohol, and then got hooked on marijuana before becoming a daily user of methamphetamine.
“Law enforcement, the department of social services and several other agencies knew me quite well. I was a “frequent flyer.’ At that time, I didn’t like that those agencies knew me and what I was doing. But later I became so glad they did, because they helped saved my life by helping me get off drugs.
“I unsuccessfully tried to overcome drug addiction, but I had a series of wakeup calls. The changing point of my life came when I was arrested for having twelve outstanding felony warrants. When I was jailed, I decided to turn my life over to God and I became a changed person. I’ve been sober since May 2011.”
Wise told the crowd that it’s also because of God that he could attend the event and honor who those who perished from drug addiction.
“It could have been me (who died),” he declared. “The path to my drug addiction was the result of a bad decision I made and I had no idea where that decision was going to lead me. But there’s hope. Drug addicts are people, too, and can overcome their addiction. I turned things over to God and since, I’ve been sober from drugs.”
Wise credited those involved in the Celebrate Recovery Program at Bear Creek Baptist Church and Reverend Cannon, in helping him defeat addiction.
“I can’t say in words how much they’ve helped me and I encourage others battling drugs to turn their lives over to God and get involved in a program similar to Celebrate Recovery. Both will help change your life forever for the better.”
Sparks said that one of the most effective ways law enforcement agencies are using to fight illegal drugs and the abuse of prescription drugs is the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program. D.A.R.E. is an education program that seeks to prevent use of controlled drugs, membership in gangs, and violent behavior. “If only one person is saved from drug addiction because of the D.A.R.E. program, the money used to implement the program and keep it in existence is well-spent,” Sparks declared.
Instructors of the D.A.R.E. curriculum are local police officers who must undergo dozens of hours of special training in areas such as child development, classroom management, teaching techniques, and communication skills.
For high school instructors, at least 40 hours of additional training are prescribed. Law enforcement officers are invited by the local school districts to speak and work with students. Those officers are permitted to work in the classroom by the school district and do not need to be licensed teachers. There are programs for different age levels. Working with the classroom teachers, the officers lead students over a number of sessions on workbooks and interactive discussions. In 2007, a new D.A.R.E. curriculum for prescription drug abuse and over-the-counter drug abuse began and according to law enforcement personnel like Sparks, has been highly beneficial in the continuing fight against illegal drugs and their abuse.