Being proactive about drugs, driving

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, Holly Springs’ top lawman writes about his Cherokee County agency being the first in Georgia to train and equip officers to use an anti-overdose medicine. A Georgia State University professor who lost two adult children to substance abuse shares his story and encourages parents struggling with addiction to speak up — and seek help — to address the disease’s toll on families. A third column deals with teenage driver safety.

Equip police with anti-overdose meds

By Ken Ball

As a 40-year law enforcement professional, I can say there is nothing I haven’t seen or done that could shock me. But there has been nothing as grueling as telling one of my troops her 20-year-old daughter was found dead on the side of a road, another drug addiction victim.

It was a defining moment for me as a chief, public servant and friend. I never took the alarming rise in opioid addiction lightly, especially when a pain clinic attempted to set up shop in Holly Springs, but this one hit close to home.

The basic objectives for law enforcement officers have not changed in the 40 years since I started: to protect, serve and save lives. I have met many people who dismiss victims of drug overdose as addicts who did it to themselves, junkies or trash; however, that is far from the case.

Young, bright, intelligent and thriving kids are dying from opioids. Young adults, middle-aged adults and now, older adults are victims. These victims are someone’s mom, dad, daughter, son, brother, sister or friend. Their lives are worth saving. This drug affects all walks of life: homeless, lower-income, middle-income and wealthy.

Law enforcement officers should try to prevent these deaths. This is what we took an oath to do.

It wasn’t but a few months after Taylor Smith’s death that her mother, Holly Springs police Lt. Tanya Smith, advocated for the Georgia 911 Medical Amnesty law. It grants amnesty from drug-related arrests if a 911 call is made for a person overdosing.

I was with her when she testified in front of the Judiciary Committee about the effects of this law and how it could have saved her daughter’s life, how law enforcement is often the first to arrive on the scene of a 911 call for help, and how those precious few moments could be the difference between life and death for an overdose victim.

I knew then, as I knew the day I told her about Taylor’s death, that there is no longer an excuse for police departments not to train and equip officers with naloxone (an anti-overdose drug). There is an epidemic in this country. It is our job to be prepared and respond when called upon. Some may say we are obscuring the lines between EMS and police; I say we are being responsible and proactive public servants.

When Smith came to me with a plan to make Holly Springs the first police department in Georgia to implement a naloxone program, it seemed like the expected next step for the agency to take. After research and discussions with respected medical doctors, training was completed, and naloxone was at each officer’s disposal. The program was up and running within six weeks of the law taking effect.

Who could have predicted that within another six weeks after that training, we would have two overdose reversals? I can’t help but wonder, would those two people be alive today if we had simply been satisfied with the law passing, if we hadn’t taken the next logical step of putting naloxone in patrol cars?

I’ve watched a man die from heroin overdose. I attempted to save him with CPR, which does nothing for an overdose victim. It is a helpless, empty feeling not being able to save a life.

I have confidence no Holly Springs officer will have to experience that feeling. Equally I have confidence two families and two victims have that second chance at life and the chance to get professional help. I can only pray other police agencies will follow suit and implement an anti-overdose program.

Ken Ball is police chief in Holly Springs.

Erase stigma of drug abuse

By Jan Ligon

On the morning of June 8, a Columbus hospital called to tell us that Kara, our 43-year-old daughter, was in the ICU as the result of a prescription drug overdose. Later that day, she was pronounced deceased. Her death is devastating to many, including her two children, my wife and me, her grandmother, co-workers in Columbus, friends and others.

Equally devastating was the death of our other child, Jonathan, 35, who died in 2003 from a drug overdose in his Cobb County condominium.

Although it is very unusual for parents to lose both their children to drugs, overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury fatalities in the U.S. and now surpass motor vehicle deaths. Indeed, the most prescribed drug in the U.S., and one that is abused, is hydrocodone, a narcotic pain reliever; we consume 99 percent of the world’s production in this country alone. So we know more and more family members are experiencing these losses.

While is it understandable society’s resources and attention primarily focus on drug abusers, there are far more people affected by drug abuse than there are abusers. This very large group of families and significant others is the silent majority in the world of substance abuse.

Having a loved one in the family with a drug abuse problem is a nightmare that won’t go away. Families can experience years of sleepless nights, lies, manipulative behavior and stress from not knowing the whereabouts of their loved one. Often, grandparents must step in and assume parenting responsibilities for their grandchildren. The substance abuser may be belligerent, irrational and unwilling to reason with family members. In some families, the drug abuser may steal from relatives, intimidate them or threaten suicide.

Children are significantly affected physically and emotionally. More than half of all child abuse and neglect cases involve drugs. Similarly, drug use is a factor in most domestic violence cases. If a family member with a drug abuse problem becomes unemployed, the family is affected financially and may lose health insurance coverage. When the drug abuser encounters criminal charges, families struggle with decisions about paying for bail, attorneys, fines and other issues from involvement in the criminal justice system.The problems are endless. They cause families to experience a range of emotions including fear, anger, resentment, confusion and profound disappointment. These stressors often continue for many years, often with little help or support in dealing with these very difficult situations.

In the U.S., we need better ways to connect with and help those affected by another’s drug abuse. Perhaps we could learn from the efforts of Scottish Families Affected by Drugs (http://www.sfad.org.uk/) and Adfam (http://www.adfam.org.uk/). These organizations offer training for professionals who work with drug abusers and support for those affected in the United Kingdom.

Because of the stigma that continues about drug abuse, affected families tend to feel a sense of guilt and shame, often refusing to talk about the problem or seek help. There is nothing worse for families than trying to figure it all out in isolation, but families will not seek assistance if they feel judged and misunderstood.

It is important to realize that having a family member with a drug problem is no different from having one with a serious health problem. The challenge is for our society to move quicker to eliminate the stigma of drug abuse and addiction.

Jan Ligon is an associate professor of social work at Georgia State University.

Stress safe teen driving

By Steve Ewing

As a father of two, a local Ford dealership president and an active community member, it’s important for me to address the topic of teen driver safety as students head back to school. There is perhaps no bigger worry for parents than teen safety, especially when their children are behind the wheel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for American teens. Driver distraction and inexperience are leading factors in many teen crashes, and distracted driving is a growing parental concern.

A 2013 survey commissioned by Ford found teens engage in several distracting activities while behind the wheel :• 62 percent of teen drivers admitted to being distracted by others in the car.

• 61 percent admitted eating or drinking while driving.

• 42 percent said they turn up the radio so loud, they can’t hear other vehicles nearby.• 51 percent said they listen to an iPod or MP3 player.

Yet only 26 percent of parents use a device to enforce driving rules or restrict cell phone use for teens behind the wheel. Who is there to remind our teenagers to buckle up when we are not in the car? How will they know when the radio is a distraction, or when the driver should slow down? To give parents peace of mind, auto manufacturers are developing technologies that encourage safe teen driving.

For example, Ford’s MyKey technology features options like a Persistent Ford Belt-Minder; a volume control that can limit the audio system to 44 percent of maximum output if the radio is too loud; and a speed chime at 45, 55, and 65 mph to remind teen drivers how fast they are going. It also includes a “Do Not Disturb” feature that helps parents block incoming phone calls and hold text messages on a phone paired with the Ford SYNC system when teens are behind the wheel.

Ford and other companies continue to be committed to teen driver safety and education as more schools face budget cuts that impact drivers education programs. Ford and the Governor’s Highway Safety Association help new drivers gain skills not taught in traditional drivers education classes through Driving Skills for Life, a free, advanced driving skills program for novice drivers.

In 2014, Driving Skills for Life launched its second decade with an expanded reach and mission to address dangerous trends and challenges teens and other new drivers face. The program will continue to reinforce the importance of “hands on the wheel, eyes on the road” while driving.

Let’s all do our part and encourage our teens to drive safe.

Steve Ewing is president of Wade Ford in Smyrna.


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