MASON — Bend Area residents were made aware of the local opioid addiction crisis and the recovery programs available, when a Town Hall Meeting was held Sunday evening at Northbend Church in Mason.
The meeting was sponsored by the Mason County Prevention Coalition and Mason County Day Report, although there were a host of organizations and speakers present.
A testimony of the effects of addiction was given by former addict Jerry Deweese, who said while he had a sobriety date of Jan. 4, 1997, he knew he was only one drink away from being drunk and one drug away from being high. Noting he had his first alcoholic drink at the age of 14, and marijuana shortly after, Deweese said he became an addict overnight.
“At 17, I would manipulate, lie, steal, and cheat to support my habit,” he stated.
Deweese said his lowest point came when he slithered across his parents’ bedroom floor while they were asleep to steal money from his hardworking father’s wallet.
Now as a recovering addict, Deweese said he believes recovery is giving back what was freely given to him. He said while there is no magic pill for addiction, recovery works if you want it.
Kyle McGee of the Mason County Day Report, Chris Johnson of Mason County Drug Court, and Melissa Carlyon of Celebrate Recovery all told about their respective organizations.
McGee said day report is often a person’s last chance before going to jail. He said people are offered various classes and practically anything they can do to guide people away from drugs. Although most come through the court system, McGee said some come to them as walk-ins looking for help.
Johnson said his is a diversion program that has seen 12 graduates since 2013. Implemented by the Supreme Court of Appeals, Johnson also works a lot with school truancies.
Carlyon said Celebrate Recovery is a faith-based, 12-step program. The group meetings are on Mondays at 6:30 p.m. at The Center (formerly Mason Elementary School).
Superintendent of Schools Jack Cullen said he feels education is the key. He discussed several programs implemented in the school system, such as the D.A.R.E. Program for fifth graders, drug awareness curriculum, and random drug testing for middle and high school students involved in extracurricular activities.
He stated a new program, “Too Good for Drugs,” is beginning through the efforts of the prevention coalition and Pleasant Valley Hospital. Brittni Kaylor, prevention coalition coordinator, said the program is already in two schools, and has age appropriate lessons for grades K-12.
Kaylor also spoke of other activities of the coalition, such as the Students Against Destructive Decisions (S.A.D.D.) groups in the high schools; Drug Take Back events in April and October; and “E-S.A.D.D.,” which is getting ready to start in the elementary schools.
Also speaking were Jessica Kapp, community engagement specialist; Greg Fowler, prevention coalition co-chairman and member of the Mason County Board of Education; Tim White of Prestera; Scott Brewer, 13th District House of Delegates; Joe Finnicum, West Virginia State Police; and Rich Gilkey, Mason Police Chief.
During the meeting, Mason Police Sgt. Colton McKinney, Officer Kendall Roush, and Officer Sierra Carmichael were presented certificates of appreciation by Kaylor. The certificates were to recognize the three for their ongoing efforts to keep drugs out of the Bend Area.
White held a question and answer session following the meeting. One of the items brought forward was the inability of former felons to find jobs. It was noted that there are grants available to businesses who hire them, as well as tax credits. White said there is also a million dollar bond through Workforce West Virginia for businesses who hire the recovering addicts.
While several town hall meetings have been held in the Point Pleasant area, Sunday’s event was the first to be held in the Bend Area. Fowler said one will be held in various locations within the county every three months.
Mindy Kearns is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.