Heroin Epidemic Series: Heroin in crosshairs of anti-drug coalition

Heroin coverSUSSEX COUNTY — Jimmy Martin and Dan Southern know all about addiction.

Six years ago, Mr. Martin says he was “living in the woods” all over Sussex County.

“Opiates and alcohol,” said Mr. Martin. “I’ve been clean 6 1/2 years. I’ve learned it the hard way.”

The addictive vice for Pastor Southern were pills and booze.

“I was addicted primarily to pills, uppers – things like that – and marijuana. I was an alcoholic … whatever I could get my hands on to get myself high,” said Pastor Southern. “I didn’t use heroin. I was always a little bit afraid of that. That wasn’t even the main drug of choice back in those days.”
But it is today’s word, and the two recovering addicts who learned the hard way are among the facilitators of the Sussex Coalition Action Prevention Coalition – a re-energized anti-drug effort rooted in Southern Delaware that has joined the battle against the heroin epidemic.

“It’s two-pronged,” said Mr. Martin, SCAPC’s chairman. “We’re going after the agencies, and then the kids in the schools. We need to do a better job engaging the schools.”

“This thing I believe is in the early stages. We’re like in the shallow part of the pool as far as what this heroin epidemic is going to do our society … 5, 10, 20 years out. I believe there is a tsunami of like a 30-foot wave coming, and it’s going to sweep over the state of Delaware. And we’re not even going to know what hit us,” Mr. Martin said. “We need to do something. We need to take action.”

Having traveled the road to recovery as a resident of the Oxford House program in Lewes, Mr. Martin now devotes his energy to helping others who have fallen into that addiction abyss. He has opened 23 three-quarter houses statewide and runs the A.C.E. (Acceptance Change Empowerment) Peer Resource Center and Haven at the Peer Recovery House in Seaford, and is on-site manager of the New Street Recovery House for Men in Georgetown.

Monthly SCAPC meetings are held at Lighted Pathway Family Center operated by the Stein Highway Church of God where Pastor Southern is Senior Pastor.

“We are in the infant stage. Most people want to see a whole lot done right away,” said Pastor Southern. “But it is going to take a while to get a lot of momentum going – the right kind of momentum. We can get momentum going just by announcing, ‘Hey, there is a drug problem; let’s come and talk about it.’ But I don’t want it to be a coalition that is just talking about the problem, I want it to be a coalition that is actually addressing the problem, and by doing that we may have to go in and do some surveys in some of the schools. We may have to get some information gathering from different sectors – society, even business as to the workforce, as in how this is affecting the workforce.”

“In order to conquer addiction in our communities, we need teamwork. We need programs, and we need education,” said Mr. Martin.

SCAPC plans to meet the first Tuesday of every month at the Lighted Pathway Family Center.

Each month, the meeting will spotlight an organization or agency. The June 7 meeting is scheduled to showcase law enforcement. Meetings are open to the public.

“Anyone that has been impacted by drugs – it doesn’t have to be heroin, but that’s our biggest problem – and anyone that is providing services,” said Mr. Martin.

“What we really need is more involvement from the schools and school boards, in my opinion,” Pastor Southern said. “And I think we really need some of the leadership in the community to step to the plate and put a face on some of this stuff, whether it be through legislation or through towns that are willing to step to the plate. Even the County, the County Council could do that.”

One of SPAPC’s initial aims is to fill 12 spokes of the “community wheel” in becoming a Drug-Free Community: youth, parents, business community, media, schools, youth serving organizations, law enforcement agencies, faith-based organizations, civic-volunteer groups, healthcare professionals, state and local governments and other organizations involved in substance abuse.

“The reason for the sectors is so that we can be part of Drug Free Community and they have grant money,” said Pastor Southern. “But we don’t have to wait until those 12 sectors are in place to start doing things. We need to go ahead and start putting together action committees.”

Mr. Martin says the peer centers welcome addicts seeking help with open arms.

“We’re a drop in center, no appointment necessary,” said Mr. Martin. “We’re very hands-on. We have a peer committee and we’re all a bunch of knuckleheads, but we’re not knuckleheads anymore. We used to be knuckleheads, me included.”

There are rules and requirements.

“Two beds to a room. And they have to go work. And a lot of times they go to work at the chicken plants; they give them chances. They have to work. The money comes from the guys,” said Mr. Martin. “That’s why people like us, especially the State of Delaware is because were not on the dole. Once they get that $7.25 an hour job – guess what? Food stamps stop, Medicaid stops, and they are on their own and are paying their way. And they are paying the rent. And I’m going to make sure you get support if you hang in there.”

While the road to recovery from addiction is very difficult and challenging, Mr. Martin says he is living proof it’s not mission impossible.

“I was a child support addict,” Mr. Martin said. “I made my $7.25 an hour, and on top of that $3 an hour was taken out so I could pay my child support. So I, Jim Martin, had to learn to live on $4 an hour. Try that for a couple years. That’s what made me who I am right am right now. If I can do it, you can. I’m double nickels – 55 – and I’ve got back problems, heart problems. I don’t want to hear excuses. If I can do it you can do it.”

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