One mother cried out for help. Her daughter, a heroin addict, has been in and out of treatment several times. And it has taken an emotional toll on the mother, who has done everything she can for her only child.
“It’s like you are spinning and spinning and spinning on a merry-go-round that won’t stop,” the mother said about the devastation.
Emergency room nurses explained how they’ve seen multiple overdoses and it’s changed them. Another mother said her third-grade daughter had recently been offered a “piece of candy” at school. A heroin addict said she didn’t have health insurance and needed long-term treatment. And a recovering addict of more than 20 years pledged to get more involved again due to the staggering statistics of the problem.
Thursday’s Community Awareness Drug Forum was a raw look into the reality of the opioid and heroin crisis that has taken the lives of many and ripped families apart. The event, held at Wilson Community College’s DelMastro Auditorium, consisted of a diverse panel of community leaders and officials. While the panelists were there to answer questions and give information on resources regarding the epidemic plaguing the Wilson community and beyond, audience members shared their personal stories. Together, they had an honest conversation in a comfortable space.
“Heroin doesn’t care about your social class,” said Jason Corprew, Drug Enforcement Administration task force officer, and a panelist. “This is an issue in every home, every street.”
The event was also filled with courage, honesty, and frankness. Many in the crowd shared their personal stories.
“We as a community have to fight this issue,” Corprew said. “We have to step up our game. We all have to do our part.”
He said there are many misconceptions when it comes to who is a heroin addict.
“They can come from every walk of life,” he said.
And officials say it’s not a matter of if your family or someone you know will be affected by it, but when.
When attorney Will Farris, who moderated the event, asked audience members how many of them had directly or indirectly been affected by the epidemic, nearly everyone raised their hands.
What starts out as addiction to prescription pain medication, often from chronic pain or surgery, leads to heroin use, according to law enforcement officials.
That’s how it started for one heroin addict who was in the audience Thursday. She told the crowd that she had two surgeries where she was prescribed pain medication. Eventually, she ran out after refills. But by then, she was addicted to the opiates. She moved to purchasing the pills on the streets. She built up a tolerance and the habit became expensive.
That’s when she said she met a man who said she could get an even better fix for $10 —a bag of heroin — rather than spending all that money. And so it began, as it does for many.
Corprew said due to prescription pill abuse, the face of heroin has changed. While at one time it was considered the forbidden fruit, it’s not the case anymore.
“That mentally has changed,” he said. “It’s lost its face. It can blend into any environment. This population is everybody.”
‘OUR CHILDREN ARE DYING’
The forum was organized by Mike and Becky Cannon, who lost their son, Jonathan, as a result of a heroin overdose in 2015. Since their son’s death, they’ve made it their mission to unite the community to combat the problem.
“It’s touching every family in our community,” Mike Cannon said. “We are losing our kids. If it hasn’t touched your family yet, it will.”
Part of the goal Thursday was to also connect community members who want to volunteer with agencies who desperately need the help in the fight.
“We need you to recruit your neighbors, family, and friends,” Mike Cannon said.
He said it will take everyone to combat the issue.
“Our children are dying,” said Tracey Dickerson-Taylor, a nurse and director of behavioral health at Wilson Medical Center who served as a panelist. “If they continue to use, they will kill themselves.”
‘A NO-WAY STREET, DEAD END’
Corprew also showed a film of his interview with a former Wilson heroin dealer who is now serving more than a decade in federal prison. The dealer, Claude King Jr., said selling heroin was a lucrative business for him. He would make anywhere from $4,000 to $6,000 a day.
“It’s the better flip,” he said. “You get more money.”
He, too, became addicted to the drug.
“You’ve got to stay high to hustle,” he said.
King said in the video that he sold to a mix of people — buyers of all races, ages, and social status, from businesspeople to prostitutes.
King was sentenced to federal prison in February of 2016. Federal officials said at the time he was responsible for the distribution of kilogram quantities of heroin in Wilson, Pitt, Beaufort and Dare counties.
“Being locked up is the next thing to being dead,” King said in the interview.
He said selling drugs is a “no-way street, a dead end.”
‘I DON’T KNOW HOW LONG I WAS OUT FOR’
The film also showed an interview with a woman addicted to heroin. At the time of the video, she had been clean for three weeks.
“It made me feel like I was on top of the world,” she said about heroin.
Her story of addiction began with first abusing pain pills.
She said the physical withdrawals from heroin is debilitating — body aches, fever, and sweats.
“I couldn’t event get out of the bed,” she said, adding that the effects can last anywhere from seven to 14 days.
The woman’s brother died of an overdose. She, too, has overdosed on heroin. She said she felt like she was on the brink of death.
“I fell straight back,” she said. “I didn’t know how long I was out for.”
Corprew later revealed the parallels between the two stories.
“Claude’s heroin is what killed her brother,” he alleged, adding that the same heroin she used was also from his crew.
The forum was headed up by the JCANS Foundation, named after the Cannons’ son. Each event the Cannons hold will be under the umbrella of what they call, “Revolution. One Voice. One Heart.”
Thursday’s panel included Donald McDonald, director of advocacy and education at Recovery Communities of North Carolina, Heather M. Moore, founder of The Anchor Holds, Tim Davis, faith-based community representative and funds of Cross Road Street Ministry, Diane Davis, president of Wilson Mental Health Association, Capt. Jeff Boykin of the Wilson Police Department and Steve Ellis, special assistant to the superintendent of Wilson County Schools. The event was sponsored by the Wilson Community College Foundation.
By Olivia Neeley
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