CUMMING, Ga. — The Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council held its 11th drug summit Oct. 30 with Georgia Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan as the guest speaker.
The summit, “11 Reasons Why,” highlighted positive initiatives Forsyth County has added to strengthen drug awareness and education since its first summit in 2013, Forsyth County Commissioner District 4 Cindy Mills said.
Mills launched the first summit after two north Forsyth teens died from overdoses in 2012.
“We knew there was an issue when the word heroin was used, but we really didn’t know how big of an issue until a later summit showed we were part of the heroin triangle,” Mills said.
The Forsyth County Drug Awareness Council (FCDAC) was established in 2014, and a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SANSHA) grant funds the full-time coordinator position, Mills said.
Each summit is unique and relevant to what the community is dealing with. The 2019 summit focused on the collaboration of community partners.
Duncan lauded the FCDAC for its effort in the battle to save the county’s young residents from illegal drug use.
“The proliferation of drug usage and addiction is something that is staggering not just in this community, not just in the state, but across this county,” Duncan said. “It takes a collaborative effort I believe to turn back what I truly believe is an epidemic nationally.”
The collaboration of what Duncan referred to as the “4Cs” — churches, charities, corporations and citizens — and emphasized that FCDAC is “a prime example of what happens when you pull those 4Cs together and leverage the talents and the resources and the awareness and the messaging of those 4Cs in a community like this.”
One of the “Cs” is Realty 4 Rehab, known as R4R, a nonprofit comprised of people in the real estate industry.
Founded by Jennifer Hodge and her son, Robbie, in 2013, the nonprofit got Realtors involved with saving lives, Hodge said. Robbie, himself, died from a drug overdose in 2016.
“It was hard to get anybody in our county to listen [back then],” Hodge explained. “I was the black sheep for saying we might have a [drug] problem.
The R4R displayed teacup memorials to those who “have been lost but never forgotten”; the front row represented those who lived in Forsyth County. At last count, the combined total was 485. An order of 400 additional cups has been placed “because it’s not getting any better,” Hodge said.
There was a teacup with Robbie Hodge’s name on it.
Three banners, each with 150 individual photos, stood behind the tables, provided a haunting reminder of the organization’s purpose.
“They are friends from around the county,” Hodge said.
Three more are in the works currently.
R4R has recently morphed into a larger entity, Community Squared, and includes Cobb and DeKalb counties.
“Our plan is to walk across the United States with these banners, and mothers across America are gonna make sure that we make a scene coming across this country,” Hodge said.
The individual who gave Robbie the drug, Hodge said, has not been prosecuted.
“Our county needs to investigate and prosecute these individuals,” she said. “But they may not win, so they don’t. Instead they go after the big guy and get a big prize for the county. The person who killed my son isn’t worth it.”
There is still more work to be done, according to FCDAC Director Tammy Nicholson, and that necessitates more participation.
“We ask every interested citizen to see how they can become involved with our prevention efforts to create the most possible healthy Forsyth County,” Nicholson said. “There is so much to do. A healthy Forsyth starts in our own homes and conversations.”
And Mills is ready for the long haul.
“As long as there are drugs, there’s going to be something new and there’s going to be something for us to fight, and I am geared up for the battle,” Mills said.
FCDAC is one of only 719 Drug Free Community Coalitions in the United States. It receives funding from SAMHSA with matching financial and in-kind donations from the community.