Addiction to drugs and alcohol can affect a whole community, so it’s not surprising how much of the community is getting involved in trying to prevent alcoholism and drug addiction.
On Saturday morning, Harmony Grove Baptist Church’s Men’s Brotherhood hosted the 13th annual Drug and Alcohol Awareness Breakfast at the church, with speakers ranging from Sheriff Ron Freeman to individuals from recovery centers to those who have dealt with addiction firsthand.
“This is according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse — in 2016, more than 64,000 drug overdoses occurred in our country,” said Rick Lovell with Waypoint Ministry’s Men’s Addiction Regeneration Program, a recovery program in Dahlonega. “The huge spike of that is coming from the huge spike in opiate abuse that is going on. In 2002, there were 2,000 people that died of heroin, and now today it is 14,000 per year.”
Joey Almond, who was in recovery at Waypoint, said his mom died when he was young and his dad left shortly after that. He said he started messing with drugs around age 12 and had been in and out of jail about 32 times before coming to Waypoint.
“I learned to live with who I am … and realized the things that happened to me weren’t my fault. I carried that around my whole life thinking everything was my fault. In all reality, I thought God abandoned me. I had a lot of hate for God, but I came to find out God was always there with me. I was just too dumb to see it.”Joey Almond
“I learned to live with who I am … and realized the things that happened to me weren’t my fault. I carried that around my whole life thinking everything was my fault,” he said. “In all reality, I thought God abandoned me. I had a lot of hate for God, but I came to find out God was always there with me. I was just too dumb to see it.”
Members of Waypoint and Sheriff Ron Freeman were the speakers at the event, and several local group and non-profits had an opportunity after the meeting to speak with those who might be struggling with addiction.
Organizer Karen Martin said the breakfast has always gotten good feedback from attendees.
“People just love it,” she said. “Even though we have a lot of the same people come back, we still have a lot of new people that come and get to hear that.”
James Park, another organizer of the event, said addiction was not as easy to talk about or seek help for in the past.
“It was just a topic that 14 years ago [or] 15 years ago, really not a lot of people talked about,” Parks said.
Alcohol and drug addiction, especially for opiates, has been a focus recently in the local community and nationwide.
Freeman detailed how the sheriff’s office and the local community is getting involved.
He said when he took office at the beginning of 2017, he wanted to target drug dealers rather than users and said about 160 dealers had been arrested in Forsyth County since he took office, a number he said he was both proud of and sad about.
“One of the focuses I made was that we were going after drug dealers,” Freeman said. “We realized that addiction is an emotional, it is a physical, it is a sometimes medical and mental health issue. One or more of those or all of those combined play into effect for someone who has an addiction, and that takes treatment.”
Freeman said among the steps taken locally have been a drug diversion program in the courts, partnering for a drug force with police in Alpharetta and Johns Creek and increasing the number of school resource officers.
He also said the sheriff’s office was facing new challenges due to fentanyl, a drug that is much stronger than and usually mixed with heroin.
“It can be 50-100 times stronger than normal heroin or morphine,” Freeman said. “We were the first place where they found a new brand of fentanyl on one of our drug dealer arrests … We have to wear masks and double-glove when we’re dealing with suspected fentanyl so we don’t overdose because the stuff will literally go through your skin.”
April Pruitt, who was among the approximately 100 attendees at the event, said she appreciated the morning’s message.
“I think there are a lot of addictions that go on with people that are not just drugs and alcohol but they’re all searching for the same thing, the same purpose, and that purpose is to be a servant of Christ,” she said.