FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — After Jennifer Bryant Hodge ordered nearly 200 candles for a recent memorial event for overdose victims, she had to place a second order when more names were added to the list.

“Our communities are falling apart from a disease that nobody talks about,” Hodge said. “We have to stop this. It’s in our school systems. There are 15-year-olds addicted to drugs. We all need to come together to make changes.”

On the list was her son, Robbie, whose recent death spurred the idea for the event. It was also part of her Realty4Rehab program she created hoping to contribute part of her commissions from her job at Century 21 in Cumming to drug recovery efforts.

She hosted the inaugural Teacup Memorial Service Aug. 31 on international Overdose Awareness Day at the Century 21 office for a large crowd of family and friends who have lost loved ones to overdoses.

Her son was addicted to drugs since age 16 due to pain pills, she said.

On the night she found her son dead, she was in Cobb County three hours earlier meeting with the coroner to identify her nephew who had just died from an overdose.

“Drugs are everywhere,” Hodge said. “This is happening across America. These are families in our community sometimes losing two children. We have serious issues.”

Necessary changes need to be made, including stricter searches at schools, cracking down on drug deals at a seedy local motel, increasing awareness and reducing stigma.

County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills said there have been 16 confirmed overdoses in the county since January.

“We’re supposed to be the land of the rich and plenty,” Mills said. “But there are a lot of hurting people in our community. There are a lot of internal things going on that people can’t see. We need to learn more about kindness, love, nurturing and helping people heal.”

She recently went with Interventionist Heather Hayes to Marietta to tour the Davis Direction Foundation which provides a place for people in recovery to gather. Mills said she’d like to see something similar in Forsyth County.

“I’ve had so many people tell me once they get clean they don’t have anywhere to go,” Mills said. “There is so much temptation to go back.”

Hayes said she’s been working in this field for more than 30 years and has never seen so many deaths from drug overdose.

“People who have this illness are good people,” Hayes said. “They look like honor students, attorneys, mothers and grandfathers. It can happen to anybody. The heroin epidemic has held a mirror up to the affluent society and shown this is a disease that does not discriminate.”

The good news, she said is that these people can recover, including the more than 23 million Americans already in recovery.

However, more people need to talk about their own recovery to end the stereotypes and stigmas, and to educate parents and family members.

“Recovery is the hope,” Hayes said. “We need to respect people with substance abuse disorder. We’d never call people with leukemia a bad person or take their symptoms and make fun of them. If you have a hint your loved one has a substance abuse disorder, the time is now to take action.”

With help, the people suffering can be healthy, productive members of society, she said.

“I love living in Forsyth County, but we have to break that stigma,” Hayes said. “We have to share the hope and the fact they can get better. Together as a community, we can beat this.”

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