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The Bladen County Substance Misuse Task Force has been committed to making a positive difference since 2017. The task force members consist of elected officials, law enforcement, mental health providers, officials from the County of Bladen, Bladen Community College officials, health care professionals, Bladen County Schools, faith-based leaders, parents, concerned citizens, and those in recovery. 

Dr. Cathy Gantz, the task force director, announced some new programs and some updates from the last task force meeting. The last meeting was held in May at Bladen Community College. 

At the last meeting, the group held roundtable discussions. Following are questions that were asked, along with some ideas to consider.

One question the leaders asked at the meeting was, “What else can we do as a task force to prevent substance misuse in our community?” Some of the ideas shared about the question were as follows:

  • Advertise community resources by sending out mailers and other forms of communication.
  • Encourage churches (youth programs) and other organizations to get more involved.
  • Address substance misuse from the pulpit.
  • Build a confidential support system to the patient (a hotline for county personnel to answer).
  • An open community resource center.
  • Form support groups for families members who have been affected such as: Nar-Anon Meetings.
  • Invite, invite, invite, and invite using different outreach platforms.
  • Encourage youth ambassadors—substance misuse education for all boys and girls beginning early on.
  • Educate our children and grandchildren. Hold public meetings.
  • Support community facilities. Examples of facilities are Cape Fear Teen Challenge and Southeastern Carolina Crossroads.
  • Reduce the availability of drugs with law enforcement interdiction.
  • Have community events such as: Protective factors training and resilience film screening. A Bladen County Substance Misuse Task Force kick-off: A meal, a celebration, a gathering to get more people involved. Walks, Runs, 5K’s for the cause.
  • Access to grants for SA education/intervention/prevention based programs. 
  • Create a resource guide to share with families and agencies.
  • Show the public that substance misuse affects all of us- our sons, daughters, and granddaughters.
  • Recommend school events.
  • Address the underlying causes such as: depression, anxiety, lack of positive coping mechanisms. There is a need to teach coping skills.
  • Mental Health Crisis Unit.
  • More access to Celebrate/Recovery.
  • Share Jesus and meaningful values to reduce the need to find meaning in drugs.
  • Be proactive and not just reactive.
  • Support narcotic investigations by providing community support.

Another question posed at the task force meeting was, “How can we decrease the stigma that comes along with substance misuse?” 

Following are some of the roundtable discussions presented during the meeting.

  • Build protective factors in the community so people and families can discuss substance misuse.
  • Have more resources and connect existing resources to help people with addictions.
  • Stay positive with our words when speaking.
  • LOVE.
  • Get to know a person in recovery in person.
  • Share testimonies on social media for others to see that it affects everyone.
  • Community education resources to help individuals have a better understanding of substance misuse.
  • Letting people know that they are not alone and there is help.
  • Publicize resources available in the community and have discussions at public forums such as: Churches, Schools, and Health Providers.
  • Have those who are struggling with substance misuse and those staying clean speak as often as possible to groups.
  • Be more attentive listeners and open as well as talk more about it. Be encouraging.
  • Remember we are not perfect either.
  • In-services.
  • More community watch groups.
  • Continue educating throughout schools, churches, and agencies.
  • Share testimonials and sharing from business owners, teachers, and counselors, etc.
  • Promote prevention efforts.
  • Second chance approach.
  • It’s okay to not be okay. Talk about it and do not hold judgements. Listen and assist individuals in finding resources.
  • We the people must stop thinking that this cannot happen to us.
  • Make the problem relevant to persons not in recovery by mentioning their future generations and their susceptibility. 
  • Do not call the misuser a drug addict. They are individuals in recovery.
  • Understand adverse childhood experiences and know that trauma can lead to substance misuse.
  • Talk openly and honestly about drugs and educate as many persons as possible. 
  • Recognize that drug addiction is an illness that requires treatment.

The third question asked was, “What can parents do to prevent substance misuse with their children?” This question garnered many responses from those in attendance. Following are the ideas shared:

  • Family time doing things together.
  • Being involved with children early on about lifestyle choices and relationships with peers.
  • Accountability teams.
  • Parents modeling no drugs allowed.
  • Engage, communicate, and monitor.
  • Single parents need support services.
  • Teaching effective parenting skills.
  • Be an active listener and discuss problems with children. Don’t judge.
  • Know your children’s friends and what they watch and listen to on social media. Be involved with your children’s lives!
  • Stop enabling children.
  • Lead by example. Teach the skills of having proper boundaries and a system of always having “honesty as the best policy.”
  • Learn to set goals for self and children. Tough love.
  • Teach lessons in how to handle conflicts in the home/work/life.
  • As a sibling….tough love, no enabling, and do not give cash to children.
  • Show Godly values.
  • Encourage children to express feelings.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers in coping with pain instead of prescription drugs.
  • Know your Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) score as well as your child’s ACES score.
  • Hold children accountable.
  • Fostering open communication about issues in school or home with fear of punishment.
  • Provide early on education of what leads to substance misuse.
  • Not placing a stigma on substance misuse so they fear seeking help.

Last but not least, there was discussion about the question, “What would have prevented you or someone you know from substance misuse?” (List as many things as possible). Some ideas shared are as follows.

  • There not being such a stigma that led to hiding when help was needed.
  • Connect with a church group to keep in touch.
  • Prayer meetings.
  • Knowledge of community resources.
  • Coping skills to deal with peer pressure.
  • Counseling sessions.
  • Someone to listen.
  • Drug education in all schools.
  • Not feeling judged- being able to openly talk about it instead.
  • Therapy and better education on Mental Health.
  • More open programs that could be easily accessed.
  • Leave my son in jail. 
  • Stop enabling.
  • Tough love.  
  • Accountability groups. 
  • Early school prevention education.
  • Positive coping skills for stress management.
  • Topical bible studies.
  • Increased community outreach and involvement.
  • Realize that it can happen to anyone.
  • Support in schools for all parents to offer after school care so children are not left alone at home to make choices until a parent gets home.
  • Understanding long-term consequences damage.
  • Not being prescribed opioids by a doctor (fewer prescriptions for a large quantity of drugs given by a doctor).
  • Family structure.
  • Conflict resolution methods.
  • Coaching accountability partners.
  • Having a personal relationship with someone that truly cares.
  • Early realization for intervention.
  • Better parenting skills (Abuse, physical, and mental).
  • Take the drugs away and turn them in to law enforcement.
  • Church involvement.
  • A good job.
  • Healthy social events. ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences, and trauma knowledge.

Taking these suggestions into consideration, the task force members are working toward a strategic plan of action. 

After the meeting, Dr. Gantz announced new programs and information to help with substance misuse.

Bladen County Health and Human Services are now distributing Naloxone nasal spray, and Bladen County Emergency Management Services is adopting a layperson Naloxone kit distribution policy. Naloxone is a medication designed to reverse opioid overdose rapidly.

Mr. David Howell, Bladen County EMS Director, gave an update on the administration of Naloxone by Bladen County EMS personnel at the last task force meeting, which was up an average of 62.5 percent. Howell explained overdoses in the county had increased substantially during the Covid Pandemic. He also noted a more significant percentage of overdoses are from semi-synthetic opiate drugs and not the pill forms of opioids like Percocet and other prescription medications.  

The theory behind distributing more Naloxone is the more citizens having access to Naloxone will increase the odds of drug overdose survival. It could give a person who misused drugs a second chance. 

Two task force members, Regan and Tocarra, shared a new resource, Project Bright Hope. This program provides needed help to those who struggle with substance misuse. The Boys and Girls Homes are now able to help the children of substance misusers through this program. 

Bladen County Schools also offers support for students and parents. The Say Something Anonymous Reporting System is in place. Ms. Kimbree Esters with Bladen County Schools reminds the public about The Say Now system, which allows youth and adults to submit anonymous information securely about threatening behavior such as bullying, suicidal thoughts, and gangs. To offer an anonymous report, visit www.saysomething.net or call 1-844-5SAYNOW. 

Dr. Gantz also reported data submitted by Cape Fear Teen Challenge. Cape Fear Teen Challenge officials report, “the current success rate at our center here locally is 88%. This is based on all students who came through our program and completed the 12 months and graduated. Those who have successfully completed the requirements of our long-term program, 88% have remained clean and sober.”

More information and data concerning why the faith-based model is successful may be found at: https://teenchallengeusa.org/studies/

The next task force meeting will be Tuesday, June 15, 2021, at 6:30 pm at Bladen Community College in the auditorium.