For the second year, Dawson County Friends of Recovery hosted the Drug Awareness and Recovery Expo Sept. 10 to give local organizations a chance to come together and address the topic of substance abuse in the community.
“We’re here to support people who are finding recovery from addiction. People who are finding recovery from addiction have to dare to take that step to get started, and the family members of people who are recovering have to dare to let them go,” said Friends of Recovery President Jessi Evans.
The expo was sponsored by Dawson County High School chorus director Spencer Wright and hosted in the DCHS common area where organizations such as ABBA House, Family Connection, Al-Anon, Celebrate Recovery and the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office set up booths and provided information for those in attendance.
According to Lt. Murphy, who represented DSCO at the expo, 4.8 percent of the inmates in the detention center are incarcerated for drug charges, and that percentage doesn’t account for inmates who are in jail for probation violations stemming from drug charges or other drug related incidents.
Murphy attested to the substance abuse epidemic, saying that cases of methamphetamine and marijuana – especially in edible form – are on the rise, but that opioid cases are the main concern.
“Gone are the days of having to find a drug dealer,” Murphy said. “Now you can call them on the phone and make an appointment with a doctor and get the opioids that you need.”
Because opioid use is on the rise across the state, volunteer organizations like Georgia Overdose Prevention have worked to help prevent drug overdoses by championing new legislation making Naloxone, or Narcan, easily accessible to the community and providing amnesty for those who call in a drug or alcohol related emergency.
Narcan is an opioid antagonist that can reverse the effects of an overdose. It is issued to DSCO deputies and from June 2017 to July 2018, local deputies were able to reverse three overdoses.
In 2014, Georgia Overdose Prevention saw the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty Law become enacted, making it easier for citizens receive access to Narcan over the counter.
In the past four years, 1,500 confirmed overdoses have been reversed with Narcan.
“Those are second chances. Those are lives saved,” said David Laws of Georgia Overdose Prevention.
For Laws, providing easier access to the lifesaving medicine is very personal. In 2013 his daughter Laura died from a combination of alcohol, morphine and cocaine.
As he addressed the audience, Laws said Laura’s life was changed in her freshman year of high school when she sustained a broken jaw from a soccer injury. She was prescribed liquid Lortab, which put her on a path that was hard to escape.
Laws added that it has been proven that persons under the age of 21 who are prescribed opioids have an 80 percent chance of becoming addicted later in life.
Attesting to the struggle of opioid addiction in a story similar to Laura’s was Liz Bragg, a former opioid addict whose addiction began when she was 10 years old.
After sustaining injuries in a 30-foot fall into a well, Bragg was prescribed opioids for her pain and took them accordingly. It soon turned into an escape from childhood trauma she suffered from ages 6 to 9.
After receiving a drug charge as an adult, she was admitted into the Dawson County Treatment Court and was mandated to join a group. She found Celebrate Recovery, which she said changed her life.
“From the moment I walked in that door I didn’t feel not one judgment, not one criticism for who I had been in the past,” Bragg said. “I was loved. I was somebody again. And even though I didn’t feel like it everybody else thought I was. Everybody accepted me for who I was regardless of my mistakes.”
Now, Bragg is a proud graduate of treatment court and three years clean without a single relapse. She is now a leader in Celebrate Recovery to help others like her.
“I want people to know that they are enough and I want to love people where they’re at regardless of any circumstance,” Bragg said. “I don’t care what you’ve been through. I love you because God loves us and I want to shine that light of Jesus to every person I come in contact with.”
Over the past three and a half years, Celebrate Recovery has seen lives changed – like Bragg’s - and families restored, according to Rev. John Mason.
“At Celebrate Recovery we believe that we can overcome all hurts, habits and hang ups,” Mason said. “Every single person here has something in your life that is hindering you from moving forward.”
Seeing the support within the DCHS common areas Monday night, Mason said he wished he had known of all the community resources available when he was a young addict and encouraged everyone at the event to visit each booth and take home information as well as get plugged in to one of the local organizations that provide support for those fighting addiction and their loved ones.
“It takes a collaborative effort on everybody to do what we do in this community,” Mason said.
Each of the evening’s speakers ended on a note of hope for everyone who has been affected by substance abuse.
“There’s no body in this room that is not affected in some way by someone’s drug and alcohol abuse whether that’s you as the addict or whether that’s a family member, a son or a daughter or mother or dad or sibling – each and every one of us is affected by those things,” said DCHS principal and Juno Baptist Church pastor Brody Hughes. “I have a close family member that is an addict and is on the path of recovery. And for years I knew this was going on in his life and I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know how to fix him and I didn’t know how to help him.
“Finally one day we got together and went to him and I just said ‘I’m here for you. I just want you to get better. We care about you and we know this has been going on in your life. What can we do?’ And I will never forget the words he said to me. He said ‘What took you so long?’”