The Forsyth County News took an investigative look into the rising numbers of overdose deaths in Forsyth County in recent years and what is being done locally and nationally to combat the issue at its root. To read Heroin's Hold, click here.
* 2 dead, 2 hospitalized after overdosing in southwest Forsyth over weekend
* Monroe Police: Cumming man’s death may be related to Forsyth weekend overdoses
For more information on the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council, go to ForsythCountyDrugAwarenessCouncil.org.
CUMMING – Victoria Torres was once nearly killed by her drug addiction, but she stood in front of a 400-person audience Tuesday and shared her experience with those who may need it most.
The seventh Forsyth County Drug Summit wash held at the new Cumming City Park Recreation Building, where the theme was the in-between. Torres, who is in recovery for addiction, said for addicts that can mean between being happy and miserable and the people you associate with being between friends and enemies.
“In between doesn’t seem to be something so scary for sober people. You can be in between jobs or in between relationships, in between an old house or a new house, in between opportunities,” Torres said. “For addicts, the in-between is a terrifying place to be, and I’ve never met another addict, including myself, that has not been there or is currently there.”
Torres told the attendees of the semi-annual summit, which promotes education and awareness of and local resources for substance abuse, addiction nearly cost her life.
“Before the law was passed recently that states if you’re with someone and they overdose you can call the police and have no repercussions, I was almost abandoned to die on the side of the road,” she said. “I was with a current boyfriend and overdosed on heroin.”
“And I died.”
She said she flat-lined in her car. She did come to, and she said her boyfriend was “driving around and looking for a place to leave my body because he didn’t want to be arrested again.”
The summit was held just days after four people from Forsyth County overdosed on apparent opioids, two fatally. Authorities believe fentanyl, a synthetic opioid analgesic that is compared to morphine but can be up to 100 times more potent, was involved in the fatal overdoses and may be connected to a bad batch circulating throughout the area.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015, 222 people in Georgia died from heroin overdoses, with another 284 dying from synthetic opioids.
Those numbers both represent an increase from 2014.
In 2014, 153 people died statewide from heroin, with the 2015 number marking a 37.5 percent increase in overdose deaths.
Synthetic opioids killed 174 people in 2014, marking 64.7 percent increase between 2014 and 2015.
The event featured several elected and community officials who shared what is being done in the community to combat drug issues, particularly the effects on students. Officials from the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, recovery centers and the county’s five public high schools were available to speak with attendees and give out information.
“We can’t be caught in the middle, in between, when it comes to this drug issue,” Forsyth County District 4 Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said. “We have got to be against it. We cannot be on one side or the other; we’ve got to be united ... It takes all of us together to help win this for the people that are in recovery and standing against the people that are selling drugs that are on the streets.”
Sheriff Ron Freeman gave a stern warning to those selling drugs.
“I made no bones about it, as your sheriff I have a primary responsibility and that is to arrest and incarcerate drug dealers … we’re going to come after you,” Freeman said.
During the event, the sheriff’s office held demonstrations showing parents, students and attendees what objects and behaviors to look for.
Forsyth County Schools Superintendent Jeff Bearden said stopping drug use is a partnership between parents, the community, schools and law enforcement.
“When students are caught under the influence of substances on school grounds, there are very serious consequences, but we also provide the resources and support to help those students,” Bearden said. “However, our goal is to prevent children from ever experimenting with illegal substances. Prevention is the key.”
Also speaking at the event were Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt and Tammy Nicholson, director of the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council, a group created to advocate for and educate the community on drug and substance abuse in the county and a key organizer of the summit.
The evening’s keynote speaker was Tony Coder, director of state and local affairs for Smart Approaches to Marijuana, who spoke on marijuana being a gateway drug that could leader to harder substances, edible forms of the drug, differences between medical and recreational types and issues facing states that have made it legal, such as Colorado.
“We aren’t in a heroin epidemic. We’re in an addiction epidemic,” Coder said, “because what’s happening is we’ve been playing whack-a-mole over and over and over; in the ’80s it was crack cocaine, in the ’90s it was meth, in the 2000s it was prescription pills leading up to now. Now it’s heroin, now it’s fentanyl.
“It has nothing to do with the drugs; it has to do with the brain, and we’ve got an addiction issue.”