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STEVE CRUMP, district attorney for the 10th Judicial District, gestures while speaking at Wednesday’s “Brewing Crisis” event at Lee University. Joining him are Angie Meyers Taylor and Scott Elam.
BANNER PHOTO, CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
Posted Thursday, October 19, 2017 10:38 am
By CHRISTY ARMSTRONG
The issue of widespread addiction to opioids got the spotlight with a joint event between local organization The Bridge and Lee University’s Department of Behavioral & Social Sciences.
“Brewing Crisis: The Opioid Epidemic in Bradley County” was held in Lee’s Dixon Center Wednesday night, and featured three panelists who are passionate about preventing drug overdose deaths.
The event featured 10th Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump, The Bridge board chairman Scott Elam and Angie Meyers Taylor, who lost her son to an accidental drug overdose.
“Opioid addiction is a problem that is truly plaguing this country,” said Dr. Arlie Tagayuna, associate professor of sociology at Lee. “It’s a silent cancer that’s creeping into our community as well.”
To kick off the event, Tagayuna shared a statistic which he called “shocking.” There were approximately 64,000 opioid-related deaths in the United States last year alone.
He added it is now considered “a leading cause of death among those under the age of 50.”
Taylor said this was her first time speaking publicly about the loss of her son, Jace Taylor, who became part of that statistic.
Jace was a 16-year-old Bradley Central High School football player. Taylor said her son was “a good Christian boy” and “still had so much to offer the world.”
“In 2016, there were approximately 1,600 Tennesseans who lost their lives to an overdose,” Taylor said. “My family and I were one of those families, shattered and forever changed by the loss of our sweet baby boy.”
He would have been a senior in high school this year, and because of an accidental drug overdose, the family is now “having to stand on the field without him” for the football team’s Senior Night.
“I do not believe Jace was an addict, but simply a teenage boy that made a fatal mistake, one that was provoked by peer pressure and curiosity.”
She said her son had decided to take a pill someone else had given him. She told the tearful story of what it was like to find her son struggling to breathe in the middle of the night and to see him succumb to the overdose.
Taylor noted that teens often do not fully realize how dangerous it can be to try drugs. Sometimes, just one pill can end a lifetime of possibilities.
She has started a grief support group for local parents and is supporting local efforts to educate you about drugs. She urged the audience to consider how many lives have been destroyed by drug use and help raise awareness.
She added this was not the first time her family tragically been affected by substance abuse She lost her younger brother, just 14 years old, in an accident involving a drunk driver.
“I feel it is my job as his mother to help educate other families about this pain,” said Taylor. “I don’t want any other young people to go down this road.”
Crump told the audience that he received his very first call about a drug overdose in his four-county district within 45 minutes of him being sworn into office.
“It has not stopped ringing since then,” Crump said.
While the DA can prosecute drug-related crimes, he stressed doing so will not make the problem of widespread substance abuse go away.
He explained the current opioid epidemic is uniquely difficult to fight, because of who it affects. Drugs considered to be opioids include common prescription painkillers, and ordinary people are turning to their medicine cabinets to get their fix.
“It is different than anything else we have ever faced,” Crump said. “Most of the time, we deal with people who are really interested in breaking the law. Here, we’re mostly dealing with people who want to get well.”
Opioid addiction can affect people from all walks of life, so he noted it is actually “everybody’s problem.”
Elam said it can be tempting to look at drug statistics and dismiss them. However, one must remember that each number represents real people who have been affected by opioids.
In his talk, Elam talked about some of the science behind addiction and how opioids can change a person’s brain chemistry.
He told stories of how addicts have described taking opioids as “being in their mothers’ arms.” He made the point that, if people turn to drugs to feel warmth and belonging, society must do more to promote belonging.
However, he stressed that one of the best ways to prevent opioid abuse is to make it impossible for people without prescriptions to gain access to others’ prescription medications.
Both Crump and Elam urged people to dispose of any prescription medications they no longer need and to lock up what they need to keep. Local law enforcement can assist with drug disposal, and The Bridge is some future drug take-back events.