The Plainfield Community School Corporation and Into the Light Recovery hosted a community forum on October 28 called "Continuing the Conversation: Prevention, Action and Hope" which was about saving OUR KIDS from heroin and other drugs.
This was a perfectly-timed forum right on the heels of the Steered Straight, Inc. presentation in Danville last week that prompted me to write a blog post, alerting Villagers that we have a serious heroin problem in Hendricks County.
(On a side note, that blog post went "viral" -- at least by They're Our Kids standards -- garnering 9,412 unique page views as of this posting! Thank you SO MUCH, Villagers, for spreading the word about this incredibly important topic!)
After attending the "Continuing the Conversation" forum in Plainfield, I want to offer a few general impressions of the event, as well as highlight some of the things that especially caught my attention.
The forum in Plainfield included presentations by Hendricks County Judge Mark Smith, Plainfield Police Sergeant Todd Knowles, Nancy Luckett from Into the Light Recovery, Ashley English from The Willow Center in Brownsburg, recovering heroin addict and convicted felon Aaron Miller from Pittsboro and his father, and Hodge Patel from Avon, representing U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.).
All of the presentations were interesting, valuable and educational, and given my past experience as a probation officer -- including 12 years here in Hendricks County -- the makeup of this panel was one that I am quite familiar with.
I can't possibly recreate this 90-minute presentation in a blog post and do it any justice, so here are some of the points that stuck in my mind.
Hendricks County, We Still Have a Problem
In case anyone still has any doubts that we have a serious heroin problem in Hendricks County, Judge Smith and Sergeant Knowles informed the audience that our county has seen three overdose deaths in the past three weeks, including one this past weekend.
Those deaths occurred in Plainfield, Brownsburg and Pittsboro, reinforcing Michael DeLeon's presentation in Danville last week that heroin is leaving no community unscathed, regardless of that community's size.
Why Do People Start Using Heroin?
Ms. English told the audience that the most common reasons that people start using heroin are as follows:
Aaron Miller reaffirmed Ms. English's information, stating that he started using heroin because it made him feel good, and he felt like a better athlete when he used.
Ms. English further warned the audience that tobacco use and alcohol use are gateways to marijuana use, which is a gateway to heroin use. She reports that she has never met a heroin addict who did not start with marijuana use.
Again, Aaron Miller reaffirmed Ms. English's information, stating that he drank alcohol and smoked marijuana as early as age 14 or 15, then graduated to snorting Oxycontin (a prescription opiate painkiller), using cocaine, and finally injecting heroin. One source of Aaron's Oxycontin? His dad's pain medication following a knee surgery.
What's it Like to Use Heroin?
Judge Smith runs the Hendricks County Drug Court, and one of the defendants in his Court's program told him that using heroin was akin to "the most intense sexual experience of my life."
What's it Like to Stop Using Heroin?
Sergeant Knowles interviewed a heroin addict who described withdrawal from heroin use -- also referred to as "dopesickness" -- as having the flu, times 50, for ten days straight. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?
Who Uses Heroin?
As Sergeant Knowles said, heroin addicts are not the stereotypical low-income, uneducated derelicts from the lousy neighborhoods of big cities.
Heroin can affect anyone.
Aaron Miller was an A/B student in North West Hendricks schools through his sophomore year in high school. He played sports, particularly excelling in baseball. His parents are middle class and, Aaron's dad said, they live a comfortable life in Pittsboro. Aaron's parents are happily married. The family is Caucasian. They are Christians. They are well-educated. They were active parents, with Aaron's dad coaching many of his baseball teams as he grew up. Aaron talked about going to Purdue after high school.
And yet Aaron became addicted to heroin and ended up receiving a six-year prison sentence for a felony drug offense after multiple arrests prior to that. His best friend died of a drug overdose while Aaron was in prison.
Based on my experience as a former probation officer, Aaron's story is not particularly surprising. Opiate addiction knows no boundaries. Broken families, two-parent families, high income, mid-level income, low income, high school dropouts, certified nurses, college-educated people, males, females, old, young: I've seen it all.
I supervised plenty of people just like Aaron, coming from circumstances just like Aaron's. Sometimes the opiate addiction started as a result of prescribed medication following an injury or surgery. Sometimes it started as a way to escape boredom or some sort of distress or anguish in their lives (including that experienced by military combat veterans). Sometimes it was a result of peer pressure -- the desire to fit in.
Regardless of how the addiction begins, it crosses all social, economic and biological boundaries, and its destruction is widespread and catastrophic.
And of course, I only supervised the addicts who were still alive.
What Do We Do Now?
The message in Plainfield was the same as the message last week in Danville: we must remove the stigma of addiction and educate ourselves and OUR KIDS.
Ms. English provided a great analogy about the stigma of addiction. Imagine that you have a child in the hospital because of a drug overdose. Close family comes to visit, but the incident is not something that we share with extended family, friends, neighbors or on social media. We don't want people to know that our kid has a drug problem because it's embarrassing, it makes us look like bad parents, and people will view us differently.
Now imagine that the same child is in the hospital for diabetes. Everyone and their uncle shows up to visit, we repeatedly plaster updates all over social media, we publicly pray for the child, we wear colored ribbons specific to diabetes, and we do everything we can to spread awareness of diabetes.
Ms. English's illustration drives home the point that we can't hope to turn the corner on addiction if we push instances of it into the shadows. There are 23 million people in recovery in the United States, according to Ms. English. That's a lot of people fighting this battle. Chances are really good that you know someone who struggles with addiction. And if you can't think of anyone, chances are really good that you're just not aware of it yet.
The Miller family's willingness to clearly identify themselves and their circumstances and tell their story is more of what we need. I didn't leave the Plainfield forum thinking any less of the Millers -- in fact, I admire their courage and their efforts to shed light on this problem.
We must also educate ourselves about what we're dealing with, which has been the point of the last two blog posts here, and which will be the focus of future posts and information posted on They're Our Kids.
See also: Hendricks County, We Have a Drug Problem: Heroin
See also: Alcohol and Drug Information on They're Our Kids
Don't Miss a Thing! Become a Villager by subscribing!