A successful Kentucky program is being studied and duplicated by the local Stand in the Gap movement, which met Sunday afternoon.
One of the goals of the Stand in the Gap coalition is to duplicate the success UNITE has had in Kentucky. Paul Hayes, the deputy director for UNITE, was at Sunday’s meeting to talk about the program and to encourage the SITG group’s effort. Since UNITE’s inception in 2003, officers have arrested approximately 4,000 people. Of those, 96.1 percent have been convicted.
“We work toward stopping the drug problem any way we can do it,” he said, adding that UNITE prides itself on building quality cases for the prosecutors in the 29 counties in Rogers’ Fifth District that are part of UNITE.
Other components of UNITE include education and treatment.
“We can never arrest our way out of this problem,” Hayes said.
UNITE goes into the school systems to work with children before they become part of the “drug culture” that is so prevalent in the district.
“The average age a kid begins to use drugs in southeast Kentucky is 11,” he told the shocked crowd.
He went on to explain that many times the children see prescription drugs in their parents’ medicine cabinet and will take one or two - before they know it, they’re addicted.
“Just because it’s a prescription drug doesn’t mean it’s not deadly,” Hayes added.
Part of the education process is to emphasize how important quality decisions are for children, as one felony conviction will affect the rest of their life.
The third component, treatment, is important because the addict needs to be away from the people who have enabled and/or encouraged their habit.
“You can love your children to death by enabling them, paying their way out of jail, and allowing them to continue their abuse,” he said, telling the crowd he hoped that was the one thing everyone took home from the meeting if nothing else. “The one who is addicted isn’t the one who is suffering the most, though - their family and friends are going through it without being high.”
UNITE has a voucher program that helps addicts get into quality treatment programs, and he emphasized the importance of the church’s role in the recovery and treatment as well.
“Just because someone is unlovable doesn’t mean there’s no hope for them,” he said. “The churches need to embrace these people… businesses need to help them find meaningful employment. It’s not simple. If you want things to change you need to look at things differently.”
Hayes urged everyone at the meeting to get others involved through any means possible.
“That’s the way you’re going to make a difference,” he said, adding that people need to hold law enforcement and judges accountable through a court watch system and other means. “If they’re not doing the right thing let the public know.”
He reiterated the commitment UNITE has to helping the Tennessee coalition in its efforts. He promised the organization will help in any way possible.
“You are not alone in this,” he said. “Think about our children’s future - this has to come from the people.”
“If you want to make a change it takes guts,” he said. “Never give up.”
The audience was given the opportunity to ask questions or make comments. Dr. Leah Cobb, a psychiatrist with the ARH system in Kentucky, addressed the problem of the lack of employment or another way of life for many who are part of the local drug culture.
“We have to have something to offer these kids,” she said, adding that “some glorified drug dealers hide behind a stethoscope” and make prescription drugs too readily available.
Dr. Ron Dubin, a Claiborne Co. resident and orthopedic surgeon, also said the medical community needs to be held accountable.
“We need to watch physicians,” he said. “The ability to write prescriptions takes a license and is an honor.”
The SITG office is located in the Cumberland Gap Town Hall and has volunteer help Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. until noon. The next meeting of the SITG coalition will be Aug. 12 at 3 p.m. in LMU’s Tex Turner Arena.
“You guys remind me a lot of Clay County, Ky.,” Hayes said in reference to the Kentucky area featured in the movie “An Appalachian Dawn,” which was a catalyst for getting the SITG movement started. “God was in that and God is in this. You can make a difference for your children and grandchildren.”