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Capt. Gregg Rector speaks at the Whatever It Takes breakfast.
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Sgt. Mac Hardy and Marion Kellough, an intervention counselor for Hoover City Schools, speak at the Whatever It Takes breakfast.
Shades Crest Baptist Church hosted a "Whatever It Takes" breakfast Tuesday morning to facilitate conversations about substance abuse in the Hoover community.
Hoover police officers, school employees and medical professionals attended to discuss what the city and its citizens can do to fight substance abuse.
“As you hear the different speakers, be thinking about what you as an individual or what you as an organization can do,” said Denis Tanner, the student and adult education leader at Shades Crest Baptist.
“I can’t stress enough how serious the heroin problem has become, not just in the Hoover community but in the Birmingham metro and nationwide,” said Hoover Police Capt. Gregg Rector. “It’s something I don’t think we really saw it coming.”
Working to battle the problem involves a community effort, said Lt. Norm McDuffie, commander of the Hoover investigative division.
“The police can’t just arrest our way out of this problem,” McDuffie said. “It’s going to take a committed partnership on behalf of the medical community, the social services community, the law enforcement community and the faith-based community for us to begin to see a turnaround in this epidemic.”
McDuffie said the heroin problem is a “massacre” due to the number of deaths resulting from heroin overdoses. In the past four years, there have been 29 deaths from heroine overdose in Hoover and 268 in Jefferson County. Addiction starts with an overprescription of pills, McDuffie said. Many people will get strong pain relievers following surgery or for other health issues and become reliant on them. When the prescription stops, they turn to cheaper alternatives, such as heroine.
“From the moment our children are born, we are medicating the 'wazoo' out of them,” said Melody Greene, assistant superintendant for Hoover City Schools.
Greene said children are bombarded with the idea that certain medications are harmless, from children’s Tylenol to commercials on T.V. Many students don’t understand that prescription drugs can be bad, she said, because they’re labeled as “prescription.” She said the school system is working to keep drugs out of schools through disciplinary actions and educational techniques.
“We don’t just say no,” Greene said. “We say no and here’s another way.”
School resource officers (SROs) are some of the school’s top resources, Greene said, and they serve as a front line for the fight against drugs. Sgt. Mac Hardy works with 18 SROs in Hoover schools and said the goal isn’t to arrest students, but sometimes it has to happen. The goal of an SRO is to improve the environment of a school, he said, not be a frightening presence.
“I hope that we do things to make your kids feel safer in schools,” Hardy said.
One way to keep drugs out of schools, Hardy said, is by disposing of medications when they are no longer needed. Taking care to get rid of these prescription medications helps prevent children or their friends from grabbing them out of the medicine cabinet and taking them to schools, he said.
Rev. Sandor Checka, executive director of the Addiction Prevention Coalition, said an important step to combating substance abuse is talking about it.
“We don’t need to keep it hush-hush. This is not an issue we need to keep sweeping [under] the rug,” he said.
Talking openly about addiction helps address the reason for the problem – why people are using drugs. It also allows for conversations about possible predisposition for addiction. Checka said he wants to tell his daughter about a relative with an alcohol addiction so she can avoid the same problems. Keeping silent on the issue would not help keep her safe.
Each speaker at the breakfast echoed the importance of communication throughout the community as well as the importance to carry the ideas forward.
“I hope this partnership continues after we leave here today,” said Marion Kellough, an intervention counselor for Hoover City Schools.