Growing up, Chris Kaissieh’s life was relatively normal.
“I really wouldn’t say we were wealthy, but we never wanted for anything,” he said. “My dad worked all the time, mom was always at home with the kids. When I turned 16, I had a brand new car along with my siblings and everything was always given to us.
“When I started working, I worked my way up through any company I was ever a part of. My life was pretty normal — not what you would expect from a drug addict. My downside came in 2008 when I broke my leg playing basketball. Like anybody else, I started getting prescribed pain medicine and took them as directed, but the pills started to dry up and since I was accustomed to the way they made me feel, I had to do whatever I had to do to get my fix.”
Kaissieh, a recovering heroin addict, shared his story Monday evening at the county’s eighth drug summit, a semi-annual event aimed at increasing residents’ awareness of what drugs are prevalent in Forsyth County and what to look for as signs of drug use.
The event featured Kaissieh, who is set to graduate from the county’s drug court program in December, New York Times national correspondent and author Alan Schwartz and a panel of experts, who discussed the drug epidemic across the nation and throughout the state of Georgia.
Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office deputies also shared their day-to-day interactions with drugs and drug addicts in the county, stressing narcotics are prevalent everywhere and in all socioeconomic spheres.
“Drug distribution is not a race issue, an age issue, a status issue, a north end or a south end of the county issue,” said Capt. Chris Barrett, head of the agency’s narcotics unit. “It’s a national issue. We have a little problem compared to some places, but it extends from one end of the county to the other and it’s not just in certain neighborhoods.
“It’s in your neighborhood and I promise it’s in your high schools. I promise.”
So far this year, 21 people have died in Forsyth County due to drug overdoses: 11 the GBI has confirmed and 10 more that are in the process of being confirmed.
Thirteen males and eight females — all of whom were somebody’s child — have had their lives taken prematurely, said District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills.
“I think it’s important that each of those [people] have a name,” she said. “Each of them belongs to a mom. Each of them belongs to a dad. Some of them were brothers and sisters and friends.
“When we’re throwing out data, we forget that they were loved. We forget that they were cared about and that they meant something to somebody. Somebody probably fought really hard for them to survive and they didn’t go down easy. When they went down, they took a lot from their home with them. They took a lot of heart with them, and their families are left behind.”
Lissa Franklin, national outreach coordinator for Life of Purpose, an academically-focused addiction treatment center and recovering addict, said there is hope, though.
“If you see something, say something — don’t be afraid to stand up,” she said. “In all reality, we need to keep hope alive. Treatment is effective, recovery works, and there are a lot of people in this room today because of recovery; I’m alive because of recovery.
“In a moment of one of the biggest epidemics our nation has ever seen, this is when we need to stand up, this is when we need to get involved and this is when we need to help our neighbor, because everybody’s worth it.”