Opioid overdoses leveling off in metro area, still a health crisis


Things are getting better but not substantially better when it comes to the opioid crisis Alabama is facing. That's the assessment of the Executive Director of Compact 2020 in Shelby County, Alan Miller. He also serves as Chief Assistant District Attorney for Shelby County.

Compact 2020 is a comprehensive approach to fighting drug addiction. From education, intervention and prevention to drug enforcement it is designed to identify children involved in substance abuse and direct them to treatment as early as possible.

So far this year: Jefferson County 50 deaths from heroin overdose and another 38 from fentanyl. In Shelby County the coroner has worked 26 overdoses and there are 15 cases pending.

A panel of experts in Montgomery is working on a strategic statewide plan to fight this health epidemic. Yesterday, the Attorney General announced a pharmaceutical company will provide naloxone, the antidote for an opioid overdose, at a reduced cost to law enforcement.

Even in the growing, prosperous Shelby County, families are not immune to the crisis. "This is a medical crisis disease of brain," explains Morris. He says they're working to ease the stigma so those in trouble with drugs won't be afraid to ask for help.

He says it's a disease that begins early with bad decisions and a permissive society that sends the message a little alcohol and marijuana won't hurt you. But using at such young ages sets the brain up for addiction later on according to health experts. As a prosecutor Miller has seen what doesn't work: the revolving cycle of jail. Now they are pushing new approaches, targeting younger children. They've seen kids on mind altering drugs as young as 11.

Miller urges parents to push privacy concerns aside to monitor their children. "They are reluctant to push too deep into phones, in bedrooms. The problem we are in an emergency situation," warns Miller. He advises you to be completely involved in your children's lives and delay giving them a smart phone as long as possible.

Another focus of their work is teaching coping skills to sixth graders who they've found face a lot of anxiety and need strategies to deal with pressure to try drugs. That could be as simple as telling their friends their parents drug test them or they play sports and will be drug tested.

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