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Forsyth County Drug Summit delivers message of hope
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Deputies showed parents common drug paraphernalia they might find in a teenager's room at the Forsyth County Drug Summit Monday night. - photo by Jim Dean

SOUTH FORSYTH -- One thing was clear at the Forsyth County Drug Summit: defeating addiction and drug issues does not mean stigmatizing those addicted.

On Monday evening, the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council hosted the semi-annual summit at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College, where those facing addiction, local officials and health care and legal professionals discussed the effects of drugs and what actions could be taken.

The theme of the evening was ending the stigma of addiction, which organizers and speakers believed to be a more powerful tool in stopping drug use than shaming addicts.

For a moment, the evening resembled a concert, as Kendra Turner, who is in recovery for addiction and was the event’s keynote speaker, asked the crowd to join her if they were still struggling with addiction, loved someone who was fighting addiction or just though sobriety was a good idea in making the American Sign Language sign for “I love you,” raising the index and pinky fingers and thumb.

“This, people, is what it is going to take,” Turner said with her hand raised. “There are no council members here, there are no addicts … love, empathy, understanding, kindness, non-judgmental attitudes for people that are suffering with a disease is what it’s going to take.”

Turner said like many addicts, she had a sad story along with her addiction, even recently losing her younger brother to addiction. She refused to blame her addiction on those issues.

“I think to tell you my sad story would insist that my childhood trauma, my teenage pregnancy, my terrible relationships, my life choices, were the prominent factor in causing my addiction,” she said. “And that would mean that the stigma put toward my brothers and sisters who still suffer and myself is true, that it’s a choice, and that’s just not the case.”

The event also dealt with issues around local youth and featured students from Coal Mountain Elementary School to discussing the Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety, or CHAMPS, program with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

Around the room, there were tables for addiction centers, information on drugs and demonstrations from the sheriff’s office as to what parents should be looking for in their children’s room as signs of drug use.

A panel of local officials also took questions about drug use.

The panel was made up of: Dallas Gay, co-chairman of the drug abuse program “Think About It”; John Rife, a lawyer and judge who has dealt with cases of addiction, Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley, Tom Cleveland, of the local school board and co-chair of the committee’s youth council; Lindsay Simpson, prevention specialist with the school system; Anne Preston, clinical coordinator for Forsyth County Juvenile Court; Laura Cotcher, who has suffered from addiction and works with Abba House, a long-term residential recovery program; Lou Ann Altshuler, a retired psychotherapist and professional interventionist; interventionist Heather Hayes; Tom Little with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office; and Edward Bailey, executive director of No Longer Bound.

Forsyth County District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills was the evening’s host.

The panel answered questions on drug issues whether they were dealing with addiction personally or a family member’s addiction, the legal ramifications, the role parents can play and what can be done in schools.

For parents, panelists stressed talking to their kids and not being the “cool parent” by allowing them to drink or use drugs and getting rid of expired prescription drugs.

Panelists also told the crowd that anonymous reports of crimes at schools could be made by texting C-R-I-M-E-S, or 274637, and beginning the message with FCSS. Anonymous reports can also be made at (770) 205-4625.