Drug Summit brings addiction issues to forefront

Community takes part in informative event

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CUMMING, Ga. — Spread across a table were drugs of every sort, from heroin and marijuana to Xanax and “ecstasy.”

A concerned parent asks a Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputy about “black tar heroin.”

The deputy points to a container filled with heroin that is common in the area.

This was one of the booths set up during the third Drug Awareness Summit on Aug. 19 at the Forsyth Conference Center.

The event is put together by the Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council, which formed last year to address concerns of young people addicted to drugs.

“For far too long, this is something that we have not talked about,” said Cindy Jones Mills, the Forsyth County commissioner who founded the Drug Awareness Council.

“There are a lot of people suffering in our community,” she said.

Mills said it’s good for parents to be aware because children who start using in middle school are 90 percent more likely to become addicts.

“Every year that you can prevent your child using, you have greatly put off the chance of them being an addict,” Mills said.

At the summit, participants heard from Mary Heard, a mother whose son became an addict.

“Whatever help you seek, listen to professionals, not your kids,” Heard told the crowd. “As parents, we are too emotionally attached… Recovery is a long process. It’s not 30, 60 or 90 days — it’s a lifelong deal. We need to get away from what our kids want to what they need.”

Heard’s son, Chandler Barnett, a recovering addict, also shared his story.

Barnett said he was drinking alcohol at an eighth-grade party when someone handed him a marijuana joint.

He then got addicted to harder drugs, including heroin.

“These drugs were so accessible,” Barnett said. “That was easier to get than to buy alcohol underage. I do know that I started small and went bigger.”

For parents, Barnett gave advice on spotting when something is wrong.

“When you see money missing, that’s probably a sign,” he said.

Drug interventionist Heather Hayes was part of the team that helped Barnett and Heard seek drug recovery assistance.

“It’s a disease, and it hits all walks of life,” Hayes said. “Ninety-percent of the people who have it are functional and it doesn’t look like what we think it looks like.”

Hayes said that most people who seek help have been pressured by family, the law or their employers.

“There’s a lot in the media about people who don’t make it and it’s true, many people don’t make it and there’s lots and lots of heroin overdoses,” Hayes said. “But there are a lot of success stories. Not everyone gets clean the first time around, so don’t give up.”

Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper said that by holding events like the drug summit, the community is being proactive and staying ahead of the curve. While some people’s attitudes are to arrest drug addicts and throw them in jail, Piper said that through working in the county’s drug court, he learned that was not the answer.

“Arresting people is not the long-term answer,” Piper said. “This is the long-term answer, talking about it, communication.”