Opioid town hall set for Columbus

August 11, 2017 12:04:30 PM

Isabelle Altman - [email protected]


Mississippi law enforcement and medical agencies are bringing the fight against the state's growing opioid and heroin epidemic to Columbus next week. 


Representatives with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and state pharmacy board will lead a town hall-style discussion at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Municipal Complex to raise awareness and answer questions regarding a growing addiction problem that is ravaging an alarming number of Mississippi's citizens and communities. 


Arleen Weatherby, a prevention specialist and impact coordinator for Community Counseling Prevention Services, said she regularly sees the affects of the opioid struggle. She educates children in schools, churches, juvenile detention facilities and through other organizations about drug and alcohol addiction, she told Columbus Exchange Club members Thursday at Lion Hills Center. But opioids are becoming a more prominent part of her presentations. 


"The proverbial monster known as opioid addiction (and) abuse haunts Mississippi and its severity is intensifying yearly," Weatherby said, quoting a report from the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. 


With the flood of prescription painkillers on the market, more people of all races and social classes are becoming addicted, she said. When doctors, who are becoming increasingly aware of the problem, stop writing prescriptions for a certain patient, the patients begin "doctor shopping" -- going from doctor's office to doctor's office to obtain more prescriptions for more drugs. When that stops working, she said addicts turn to street drugs like heroin. 


Mississippi doctors wrote more than 3.5 million prescriptions resulting in more than 201 million dosage units of opioids dispensed in 2016 alone, according to a Mississippi Department of Mental Health press release that Community Counseling Services issued earlier this week.  


"There were enough prescription painkillers dispensed in the state of Mississippi that every living, breathing person in the state could have possessed approximately 70 dosage units each," MBN director John Dowdy said in the release. 


According to Michael Jordan, spokesperson for the DMH Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Services, one out of every 10 Mississippians abuses prescription drugs. 


DMH, along with the Mississippi Department of Public Safety and the Mississippi offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Agency will also present at the meeting Tuesday. 




Community Counseling Prevention Services 


Weatherby's talk at Lion Hills also focused on her work with the program Too Good For Drugs, which she and a group of trained volunteers present for teenagers throughout Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Winston and Choctaw counties. The program focuses on both life skills and drug and alcohol prevention. 


Throughout the four counties, Weatherby said, she's met teenagers and children even younger who are already addicted to alcohol -- sometimes because their parents give it to them. 


"Because their parents want them to drink with them instead of out in the streets," Weatherby said. 


Through teaching life skills and prevention techniques in the program, Weatherby said she hopes to keep some kids from becoming addicted in the first place, while helping those who already are addicted. 


She knows it has worked, she said, because she has teenagers who went through the program now volunteer with her, going from county to county telling other children their own stories about their or their families' struggles with addiction. 


Weatherby added that she always needs more volunteers -- particularly men, who often have more of an impact on boys struggling with addiction, she said. For more information about Weatherby's program, contact her at 662-295-1633.