Photo by Erica Techo.
Sandor Cheka speaks at a Whatever It Takes meeting at Shades Crest Baptist Church. The meetings were started to kick off conversations about addiction in Hoover.
Drug addiction and heroin use are not problems that are going away.
And although the number of heroin overdoses in Hoover has increased over the years, community members are working to ensure he conversation grows as well.
“This is not going away. The heroin epidemic is not going to get better next month; it’s not going to get better next year,” Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector said. “So the more we talk about it, the more attention we give it, I think that’s a plus.”
In 2013, the Hoover Coalition Promoting a Safe and Healthy Community stopped receiving federal Drug-Free Communities grant money. And once that money ran out, conversations started to run out as well.
“There were a couple of years where we didn’t do much, and I’ve had a heart for this issue for a long time, as a student minister and as a person who has seen addiction in my family,” said Denis Tanner, minister for students and adults at Shades Crest Baptist Church.
After seeing the efforts of communities in the Birmingham metro area, Tanner decided to resume the conversation in Hoover. And as he approached community members, Tanner said, people were ready to help.
“When I approached different people, there was no hesitation,” Tanner said. “People want to do something, but it was just pretty much ‘What do we do?’”
Tanner started hosting “Whatever It Takes” meetings at Shades Crest Baptist Church, inviting community members from different circles in Hoover — businesses, schools, parents, police and churches — to have open conversations.
A big step in the fight against addiction is discussion, said Addiction Prevention Coalition Executive Director Sandor Cheka. By starting these conversations, he said, Tanner has opened the door to potential solutions.
“By having these conversations, it gives us that permission that this is something we can talk about and how do we fix this together, as opposed to whispers in the dark about someone’s family going through something,” Cheka said, “and that’s what we see all too often.”
Not talking about addiction just bolsters the stigma, and opening the conversation means people can come forward with their struggles rather than feel shame, Cheka said.
“The more we inform people about it, the more open we are about it, the more likely people will make positive decisions instead of destructive ones,” he said.
Cheka said it is also important to realize people come into these discussions with differing personal experiences. Some want to focus on prevention, while others focus on addiction education.
“You have the side of things where there’s somebody who has gone through this and is trying to figure out how does my son, daughter, myself, whoever get back integrated into society without this shame, stigma, guilt associated with it,” Cheka said.
By the third Whatever It Takes meeting, the discussion shifted from listening to guest speakers to applying what they have learned, Tanner said. Now they are setting “work meetings,” where they will construct a plan of action.
During these work meetings, Tanner said they will likely divide into subcommittees to consider multiple approaches. That way, Tanner said, people who want to focus on prevention can consider how to keep drugs out of schools while others can work on education about coping with or responding to addiction.
“If you don’t separate them out, it becomes two sides really fighting for the same end result,” Cheka said.
Approaching the conversation from several angles, Tanner said, prevents the burden of fighting addiction from falling on one group.
“We can’t just count on the schools to do something and then we not do something in our own homes,” Tanner said. “We can’t count on the churches to do something and then not do something at the schools, so that’s why I would like to see us all come together on the same page.”
The next Whatever It Takes meeting will be Jan. 25 at 11:30 a.m. at Shades Crest Baptist Church.
HEROIN ON THE RISE | Speaking Up is the second installment in a three-part series about heroin use and addiction in Hoover. For the third installment, focused on school programs about drug use, see the February edition of the Hoover Sun.