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It's time to get honest & proactive about our community's drug epidemic

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My heart sunk today at the news of the death of another friend in what should have been the prime of his adult life, a victim of long-term substance abuse, depression, and many other life challenges.

The last time we saw each other, he seemed on top of the world. He was on fire about his recovery and on fire about his relationship with God. We'd had many conversations over the last year and a half or so, most of which were concentrated solely on these two subjects. By all outward appearances, he was on the path to reclaim the life he'd lost through addiction and committed to creating a better life through his Savior. On the inside, the part he didn't show the rest of the world, he was struggling and dying.

My daily work as a writer, reporter, photographer, etc. is a God-given ability that I am thankful for each and every day. My heart, however, belongs to the field of ministry and, specifically, those individuals and families throughout our community who battle drug and alcohol addiction. It is an eartly hell I would not wish on my worst enemy.

I make no attempt today to hide my own history of addiction, it's part of my life story and a tool God uses to reach others. While I certainly have countless regrets, I am in awe of His power and ability to use my shortcomings to further His purpose.

Substance abuse is the number one problematic issue facing our community, yet we continue to keep it the dirty family secret when it hits us at home. It is the number one public health issue and the number one contributor to both crime and domestic violence. Our answer to the drug epedemic over the last four decades has been to put it in the hands of law enforcement, which is clearly not working. The United States represents about 5% of the world's population, yet we boast 75% of everyone in the world currently in prison. We build more and more jails, but the drugs, and those who seek them, don't go away.

Don't get me wrong on this, I am certainly not a proponent of drug legalization. Drugs should be illegal, and those who possess and sell them should have to serve whatever penalty they are given by the courts. The simple fact, however, is that law enforcement cannot solve this problem alone, and we are not going to incarcerate our way out of this epedimic.

People, especially our local civic, government, and religious leaders, need to begin tackling this problem with straightforwardness, openness, proactiveness, and honesty. Drug addiction and alcoholism does not discriminate on the basis of race or socio-economic status, and there is not a single family in Coffee County that has not been touched by this harsh reality. If we continue to keep our loved one's addiction the dirty family secret, hiding it by any means necessary, things will never improve. When we start being honest and open, and people start getting involved, things will begin to get better.

Our leaders should bring this issue, collaboatively, to the forefront of their agendas. We should be promoting a community-wide atmosphere for support and recovery, both for the individuals battling the addiction, as well their families. Resources need to be available and widely-known, and after-care for those leaving long-term treatment facilities is essential.

If we are going to truly face our community's drug epedimic, it is going to take an effort on the part of our locals who have faced this problem, especially those of us who have walked this path and come out the other side. People need to know that recovery is a reality, and there is no better testimony to that fact than the words of those who have lived it. People need to stop being ashamed and start helping.

I am ready and willing to do my part, and I hope many of you are, as well.

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