Drug abuse forum draws large crowd – Tifton Gazette

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TIFTON — The forum on drug addiction and behavioral health in Tift County drew a large crowd to the YMCA Conference Center on May 10.

The forum was the brainchild of Judge Herby Benson, who sits on the Tift County State Court, and was sponsored by Tift Regional Medical Center and the Tift County Superior and State Courts.

There were seven panelists on hand to talk about various aspects of drug abuse and its side effects on the individual, relatives and the community.

Judge Melanie Cross represented the new Tift County Drug Court program, and spoke about how the way the legal system treats addicts is changing. Just throwing them in jail doesn’t work, and the legal system is beginning to realize that and change accordingly.

“There is a science behind addiction and unless you know that science and can treat that addiction in the proper way, it’s just not going to work,” she said.

Annie Clark from DFCS spoke about the dramatic increase in children being put into foster care because of drug addiction in the parents, and about how drugs harm the children of drug users.

She said there are not enough foster homes to house all the children they are having to take into care, and that often siblings are forced to be separated because there just isn’t room for them.

Ann Kuhutko, mental health and substance abuse specialist from Behavioral Health Services of South Georgia, talked about how Tifton is a target drug distribution center because of the location, being at the intersection of three major arteries.

She also spoke about the drug courts and about how those who complete the program are less likely to reoffend.

The most powerful speaker was Marcus Bennett, who is a participant in the drug court and is a former drug dealer and addict.

He shared his recovery story with the crowd, and credits the drug court program with helping him get off drugs and alcohol and get a job.

Jeff Youngblood, a member of the MidSouth Narcotics Task Force with the Tift County Sheriff’s Office, told the crowd about what kinds of things they are seeing on the street and trends in what drugs are being used.

He said that prescription drugs are what they are seeing the most of at the moment, but that heroin is quickly overtaking it, since it is actually less expensive to get heroin than it is to get opiates.

Following Youngblood, Teresa Moore spoke about her experience as the parent of a drug addict.

She spoke about the stigma associated with having a family member that uses drugs and the resources that are available for the families.

Dr. Abhinav Saxena, a psychiatrist at Affinity, spoke about the need to reduce the stigma associated with drug abuse and mental illness and gave some startling statistics about the opioid epidemic.

“Ninety-one Americans die per day because of opioids,” he said. He also said that opiate overdose is now the number one injury related death in America.

“I hear a little too often that this is a disease of immorality,” he said. “That’s the problem with addiction, it’s a mixture of biological problems mixed with social disfunction.”

“The people who are struggling want to get better,” he said, and said that the only way to solve the problem is by a community effort.

After the speakers were finished with their presentations, the audience was invited to ask questions.

The Q&A portion of the event lasted for about 45 minutes, and there were more questions that were not able to be answered because of the time.

Charleston Carter was the emcee for the event, and introduced each of the speakers.

City Councilman Wes Ehlers and County Commissioner Melissa Hughes read a proclamation recognizing the event from Georgia Governor Nathan Deal.

Benson was very pleased with the turnout and the participation, and said that he is already planning to have another forum.

For more information contact Benson at (229) 386-7921 or at herbert.benson@tiftcounty.org.

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