ARCANUM — Arcanum-Butler Schools and Coalition for a Healthy Darke County joined forces to host a “Community Conversation about Drugs” Thursday night.
Coalition president Sharon Deschambeau spoke briefly at the start of the event, stressing the importance of parents talking to their kids about drugs early and often.
“The education process starts in Kindergarten,” Deschambeau said. “I believe the way to change the culture in Darke County is through our children.”
Darke County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Whittaker expressed similar sentiments.
“You’re going to have to pardon the doom and gloom I’m about to bring you,” Whittaker told the audience of parents and school administrators.
21 people died of accidental overdoses in Darke County during 2017, according to Whittaker, mostly after using fentanyl or carfentanil, synthetic heroin substitutes which can be up to 5,000 times as potent. And that number doesn’t include suicides, victims who were later revived (some with severe brain damage), or traffic fatalities where drugs are suspected to have been a factor. Overall, Darke County first responders received 173 overdose calls last year.
“For many, many years, Narcan was a drug that expired in our stores before we could get around to using it,” Whittaker said. “Now overdoses far exceed traffic fatalities. I never thought I’d have to stand up here and tell people that, but it’s true.”
Whittaker also stressed the importance of parents talking to their kids.
“It’s not your job to trust your kids. You need to get inside your kids’ lives,” Whittaker said. “You need to be all up in their business. Kids don’t have a right to privacy yet. They have to earn that.”
Finally, Whittaker mentioned the School Resource Officer program, in which Darke County Sheriff’s Deputies have been stationed inside a number of local schools.
“These officers aren’t there primarily for security,” Whittaker said. “They’re there to interact with kids in a positive way, and to earn their trust. If these officers weren’t in the school, most of these kids would rarely have any contact with us.”
Juvenile Court Judge Jason Aslinger spoke next, emphasizing the effect of the opioid crisis on families.
“It used to be very rare that we’d have grandparents or distant relatives coming forward to take custody away from drug-addicted parents,” Aslinger said. “Now it happens multiple times a week. I signed two of those today.”
The harder drugs, Aslinger said, don’t seem to have made their way to the younger population yet. But kids are still abusing prescription and over the counter medication, and marijuana use is also quite common. It’s a mistake, according to Aslinger, to think that these “softer” drugs are safe.
“We’re now seeing marijuana laced with opiates and cocaine – that’s an especially evil development we’ve seen lately,” Aslinger said. Dealers apparently lace their product with these stronger drugs in order to hurry the process of their customers becoming addicted.
Dr. Anna Hatic, who is certified in addiction medicine, went on to explain some of the science underlying addiction, saying that some people seem to have a light in their brain that goes on when they’re exposed to a certain drug. At that point, the disease takes over, according to Hatic, and using becomes an addict’s only goal.
“Addiction is a disease of isolation,” Hatic said. “If kids are involved in the community, and parents are involved in their lives, it’s going to be a difficult thing to hide.”
Finally, Kelly Harrison, of Recovery and Wellness Centers of Midwest Ohio, spoke about the youth-led group We Are the Majority, which seeks to emphasize the fact that, while drug abuse is a serious issue, most young people are not drug users. The group seeks to promote fun activities for local teens that don’t involve drug use.
“I wish we had all the answers,” Harrison said. “I wish we didn’t have to hear about so many people suffering. But sometimes it seems as though you never hear about the good things, even though people are out there doing the right thing all the time.”