Engaging and getting students involved in their school work is not always easy, but at South Webster High School, some of their students have a real sense of wanting to be engaged in one of today’s biggest problems, the Opioid Epidemic. They have questions and they listen intently as others present to them what they know and feel can be done.
Congressman Bill Johnson and Judge Alan Lemons visited the high school students at South Webster High School. Their visit was the second time that these students were spoken to about the opioid problem in their community, Scioto County, and the United States. These students, again, have been reading the book, Dreamland, The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic, to continue their work with Cyndy Hykes’ Government class shared unit with Judy Ellesser’s English class. Last week, the group had Bill Raison, the Portsmouth City Police Chief speak with them.
Judge Lemons was the first to speak about the things he has to do as the Probate Judge, as far as how very busy he is, due the heavy case load of people either using drugs or families with drug problems. One of the things he mentioned to give them incentive to think, is that they can help. “ Everybody at this time has to work, society changes, we have to adjust.”
Judge Lemons told this group that he has had children as young as 11 or 12 begin using drugs. He told the group that he felt that the ‘unwritten rule’ of silence should be quiet, when it comes to someone in trouble. This rule, he said, he knew that no one wants to be the snitch or rat, but that it’s time to speak up. He brought up that we now have a need for family reunification, because we have some kids that worry everyday whether their mom or dad will live, and that these are also the kids that are taking care of their younger siblings, plus even the parents, who are on drugs.
Judge Lemons also talked to the group about what to do, especially with repeat offenders. He said that you cannot lock people up to solve the problem. A lot of times, they go to jail and then when they get out, they go right back doing the same thing. In family drug court, he tries to give them incentive to want to get clean, that is if he takes their babies from them, they have a reason to get clean. Lemons also talked to the group about the different sizes of the drugs, like Fentanyl, and Carfentanil are twice the size of morphine and ten times as potent.
The students did bring up what they are most interested in and that is, what could they do at their age?
One wise piece of advice he gave them was for them to make it a popular thing to do, to not go to these parties with drugs, alcohol, or any risky behavior and that was a way to start and that they needed to break the cycle.
Following Lemons’ discussion, was Congressman Johnson and one of the first things he had to say was that if he could, he would love to have the whole day and hours to spend with them, “you have no idea how important you are!”
Congressman Johnson encouraged the students by stating that any of them could be him, a United States Congressman. He told them that he was a mule farmer when he was young, there was no tractor and that people would ask him why they didn’t borrow a tractor, and he told him they had to borrow the mule, and everyday was a survival.
Congressman Johnson went in the Air Force, right out of high school. The students were told that when he was a ‘freshman’ congressman, he was told to pick an office, after the senior Congressmen had had their pick. He said, that he picked one and later he found out it had been John F. Kennedy’s first office and how that meant something to him. He continued to share with them, that when he first walked the halls in Washington D. C., he could feel the history, passion and the heartbeat of our country.
Following that, Congressman Johnson talked to them about the Opioid Epidemic and how it is a Societal and Cultural problem and we, as a country, need to wrestle this thing to the ground. He gave them food for thought, by saying, “People don’t get up and say, ‘I think I’m gonna become a heroin addict today.”
He shared what he called an unfortunate thing that 10, 11 and 12 year olds are getting addicted or high, using cough medicine because of the ingredient dextromethorphan or DMX as it is called.
The students then began asking questions, Maddie Cook asked, “What can students do in our community at our level to make a difference? “It starts with a heart, there’s not much wrong with America that can’t be fixed, if we would change our hearts. America doesn’t have a head problem we have a heart problem. and if we would look out around us and see our friends and maybe even those that aren’t our friends, not people that hang out in our peer group, but when you see someone that you think is struggling, or beginning to struggle, talk to them, urge them to go talk to somebody maybe the counselors, maybe a health care provider, their mom or dad and in some cases you may have to make a very tough decision that you need to tell someon, if you determine that it’s desperate enough. If they are leaning toward trying to purchase illicit drugs like heroin and fentanyl, that stuff will kill you, it will kill you in one dose.”
Olivia Messer asked, “…Is there any way we could communicate with other countries for help in solving this problem, instead of trying to take care of it ourselves?” He answered,“We are not going to get a lot of cooperation from other countries, when you are the king of the hill, other countries will try to knock you off your perch. I can tell you we are not going to get a lot of help getting the Chinese to self discipline themselves, or the Venevusys, or the Cubans, or the Russians, or the Middle Easterners, where many of those countries, these are production crops for them. This is a problem we are going to have to solve on our own. That is not to say, we don’t have those types of discussions, our UN ambassador does talk about this with other countries’ ambassadors. But, these countries, they would love it if every American became a drug addict, because it suits their purpose, because they are threatened by our values and our way of life.”
Josiah Edwards asked, “Why wasn’t this problem, when it first started, why wasn’t it contained? If it was this big, why wasn’t it contained?” Johnson, ” it’s a gradual thing. many health care providers are trying to do what they think is the right thing, it is something that got out of hand before we realized it.”
Jacob Witter then asked, “How come we haven’t done anything with the doctors to stop them from giving out so many opioids?” Johnson answered, “We are, and in Ohio we have, the Governor signed a law and you can only get like seven days worth and then to get more than that, if your pain is not managed, you have to get a second opinion from another doctor before you can get more.”
Zach Nagel wanted to know, “Do you think other countries are using the drug problem we have as a strategy?” He was answered with, “absolutely, politics is war by other means, you can better believe that there are different ways to try and knock the king of the hill off its perch, not just with bullets and bombs. If they can do it with ideology, if they can do it with drugs, propaganda and misinformation, they will do that. The world is a very dynamic place that we live in, and power and perceived power, are very very dangerous things.”
Finally, Salem Moore asked, “ With the expansion of federal funding for this issue, what more have we done to help this issue?” Congressman Johnson answered, “By educating Health Care Providers on the dangers of the opioids, getting the FDA to get new technologies through. For example, there are non addictive pain medications available, but they cant be taken in pill form, you can’t get them and then go home and take them. They have to be infused through a port. They have new technology that when you come out of surgery, you have this port that is installed and you get prepackaged syringes of that non addictive pain medication-so many of them, not too many of them-and then you manage your pain that way, and it’s not addictive, but that technology is new and it hasn’t made it to the market yet.
Congressman Johnson finished with this, “‘I can tell you it does not work to send someone through rehab for a month, get them clean, and then put them right back in the same situation that they were in when they started, and expect to get a different result. There is a lot more we’ve gotta do. We can’t buy our way out of this, Congress can’t appropriate enough money to fix this problem, because it’s a human condition you can’t legislate the human condition. We are all in this together.”
Reach Kimberly Jenkins 740-353-3101 ext. 1928