'Time2Talk: Addiction' forum set for April 19
The first of three "Time2Talk: Addiction" forums for parents and other concerned citizens in the community is being held next Tuesday, April 19, from 6:45 to 8:15 p.m. in the Woodford County High School library. Next Tuesday's forum - focused on prevention and addiction - will inform and empower parents so they are better prepared to help their children if they see early warning signs of addictive behaviors, according to prevention specialist Sharon Tankersley who lives in Versailles. "You don't want to think about a problem like addiction or overdose death until you almost have to because it's forced upon your family in some horrible way," said Tankersley. While parents do not want to consider that their teenage daughter or son may be vulnerable to addiction, they should not ignore the possibility, she said. Breaking down stereotypes and myths about addiction in order to foster honest communication so a person feels comfortable asking for help will also be discussed at the first forum. "We're all in this together and we're going to help them keep their kids safe if they'll let us," said Tankersley. With so many people seemingly focused on this issue and so much misinformation about drug addiction and overdose deaths, scheduling a series of community forums is an opportunity to continue the conversations about addiction, Tankersley said. "We're really trying to get the word out that this is something for every person who would like to understand this problem more and be part of the solution before it becomes an even bigger problem," said Tankersley. A second "Time2Talk: Addiction" forum will focus on treatment and recovery. It's scheduled on Aug. 23. A third forum on enforcement will be held on Nov. 15. All three forums are free and sponsored by the Woodford County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP). Jennifer Powell's younger sister, Jolene Berger-Bowman, died of a drug overdose on July 1, 2015. So she understands the importance of talking about addiction and supported organizing this series of community forums. "When someone has an overdose . in their family, it finally opens their eyes," said Powell. "Unfortunately, sometimes that's too late. But it can happen in any neighborhood in this county. It has happened to most neighborhoods in this county. "There are so many more overdoses that we're not aware of that EMS responds to daily, weekly, monthly - in every neighborhood, in every part of the county. Every family is touched in some way, and we have to talk about this. We have to get it (out in) the open. We have to make it more comfortable for people to come forward and ask for the help that they need." Woodford County Emergency Medical Services have responded to 38 drug overdoses since last July 1, according to EMS Director Hunter Shewmaker. He said those patients received 76 doses of Narcan (also known as Naloxone), which counters the effects of an opioid overdose. "For a small community like this that's a pretty big number (of opioid overdoses) for less than a year," said Shewmaker. Assistant EMS Director and Chief Deputy Coroner Freeman Bailey said Narcan has helped reduce the number of deaths in Woodford County. And because most of the overdoses are occurring in Versailles or just outside the city, response time has also helped, Bailey said. "We've been able to get there quick and treat aggressively," he said. Shewmaker said many lives have been saved because of Narcan. "We're able to reverse the respiratory arrest and get them back. So that's helped keep our numbers as far as fatalities down," added Bailey. Marcus Lynn, pastor at First Christian Church of Versailles, said he did not know a lot about the extent of the drug issues facing the community prior to being asked to join the ASAP board. Now, he has a much better understanding of how drug overdoses are changing lives everywhere in Woodford County. "It's reaching the community regardless of socioeconomic background or race or neighborhood. And so that's a pretty scary thing when it's happening everywhere in Woodford County," said Lynn. The ASAP board chair said people often don't fully understand addiction nor the obstacles an addict faces when trying to get clean. Powell said addicts need other people to understand that they did not choose this life for themselves. "Everyone's situation is different. Everyone's story is different," explained Powell, "but nobody wakes up in the morning and says, 'Hey, I want to be an addict today.'" For anyone unable to attend the "Time2Talk: Addiction" forums, those discussions will be recorded so they can be viewed online. A licensed therapist experienced in treating adolescents with substance abuse issues and other speakers will provide valuable insight and answer questions during the first forum next Tuesday at WCHS. "This is a very, very important topic that we've all got to educate our community on," said Sandra Ryan, coordinator of the local ASAP board. "We've got to face it rather than sweeping it under the rug." In early March, Woodford County ASAP arranged a training for anyone in the community with an interest in learning how to administer Naloxone. Powell, an advocate of the training, said she was impressed by the number of people who wanted to learn about Naloxone, including how to identify an overdose and how to administer the nasal spray. Realizing her sister's death may have been prevented if somebody had given her Naloxone, Powell said she hoped the recent training might save the life of another person's loved one. "Because overdose rates are continuing to go up in Woodford and surrounding counties, and more and more families are being personally impacted by addiction - and overdose is a very real risk - if more and more people have access to the medication then we're not leaving that time-sensitive issue in the hands of first-responders who may or may not be able to get there when we need them to," said Tankersley. Powell said she carries Naloxone "everywhere I go" and "would not hesitate to use it" if she saw someone who has overdosed. Powell was not aware of Naloxone and Narcan prior to her sister's death, and it continues to frustrate her that she was also unaware of resources that may have been able to help her sister beat her addiction to heroin. "Conversation is absolutely critical to make people aware - all they have to do is ask," said Powell. "Emotional support is so, so important." She described those conversations as being critical to at least slowing the spread of addiction. "Silence gives drug addiction power," Powell said. Local ASAP boards are funded by tobacco settlement dollars, with their focus on preventing and addressing substance abuse problems in communities. The upcoming forums will help inform the Woodford County ASAP board on future needs as they relate to substance abuse issues in the community.