By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
Waycross and Ware County share startling statistics with other parts of the state and the nation — a huge drug problem, a large number of recovering addicts and the need to provide assistance to them and their families.
Members of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse and the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network arrived in Waycross Wednesday to attend a “listening session” and provide information about steps to form a Recovery Community Organization to support the needs of recovery in Waycross and the surrounding area.
They came to listen and learn — and listen they did.
Members of all segments of the community attended including clergy, persons in recovery, business people, family members, mental health workers, recovery workers, educators and everyday homemakers. Many offered heart-wrenching testimonies of being addicted to drugs and alcohol, losing family members and jobs, homes and friends.
They heard recovering drug addicts and alcoholics tell about their lives and the issues they face while living day-to-day with family, friends, jobs and schooling.
“We’re here to think of new ways to think about problems and come up with solutions to drugs and alcohol,” said Emily Ribblett, of the Georgia Council on Substance Abuse.
Brian Kite, project coordinator for RCO Development in Atlanta told the group about alarming statistics related to overdoses and deaths in Georgia and the United States.
Between 2010 and 2014, the rate of deaths by overdose rose 13 percent in the United States. Deaths by drug overdose increased by 24 percent in Georgia between 2010 and 2017 and overdose by prescription medications rose by 16 percent in 2016 — a total of 1,475.
In Ware County alone, nine people were taken to the emergency room, 14 people were hospitalized and three people died from overdose of drugs over the last few years, Kite said.
He noted that nine out of 10 people who use heroin have also used or misused prescription drugs in the past.
“Georgia is the number one state with people in some kind of supervision. One in 13 are on parole or probation or some other supervision,” Kite said. “How can we move from focusing on locking them away to finding a recovery path.”
One woman in the crowd proclaimed — “Going to jail is not the answer to addiction!” She was given a rousing round of applause.
Kite noted that early recovery is “very fragile” and called on everyone who can to support those in recovery from drugs or alcohol.
“It takes time for the brain to rebuild brain cells,” he said.
Asked what does help? The audience began calling out answers — family, friends, compassion, faith, hope, helping others, taking action — a balance of things that help keep people well and healthy physically, mentally and emotionally.
Dr. Johnnie Swinson, of Family Life, said the meeting was “very enlightening” since she had never done drugs or consumed alcohol. However, she said, “I’m sensitive to what we can do to prevent the problem. It appears drugs are so easy to acquire.”
Those attending learned first hand about the changes that are available through state agencies to promote healthy communities. Speakers focused on the services that can be offered here to those in need of safe environments to continue recovery.
Problems being faced in the community and brought to light at the session include a lack of education, lack of support in helping prevent addicts from returning to their former lifestyles once they’ve been through rehabilitation and treatment.
Recovery Community Organizations (RCOs) around the state are funded by grants and are helping many find continued recovery, Ribblett said.
The town of Jesup has an RCO called Face-to-Face. Patty Collins, executive director, explained how that program works and enthusiastically encouraged the community to begin efforts to set up an organization.
The program, Collins said, supports recovery in many ways. It has provided food for the people in their community, holds All Recovery meetings weekly, has a resource office and even provided Christmas presents for women and men in recovery houses.
Another RCO provides jobs for those between returning home and finding permanent work, a healthy way to support early recovery in their community.
“Waycross can become identified with the RCO movement by organizing a community support board with 50 percent membership of persons with life experience in the world of recovery and 50 percent stakeholders,” said Cathy Sweat of Bethesda Recovery. “Bethesda Recovery is beginning now to work on putting together this board and leading the charge in our area for an RCO. This group can expand to the other counties around as well and become a regional organization.”
Collins called on everyone to “get behind Cathy (Sweat) and push her all the way. We meet people where they are. Jesus Christ found me. Until I had a spiritual awakening can you share Christ with another. We have to love and support them where they are. We ain’t seen nothing yet. Get your RCO in place.”
Added Ribblett: “It takes the whole community.”
She suggested the group meet again in a few months and see where the community has come from today. She announced that there are community grants available to help create recovery organizations to help with training and job placement along with recovery from additions.
Collins invited anyone who needs help to call her in Jesup at Face-to-Face any time, any day.
“It’s really working,” she said. “It’s all about a Recovery Community Organization.”
Kite thanked everyone who attended and participated.
“It’s awesome to see recovery continue to grow,” he said.
Bethesda provided a lunch of chicken salad, pimento cheese, rolls, crackers, apple slices, along with chips and cookies that were provided by Stewart Distribution and bottled water compliments of Coca-Cola.