— Second in a series.
By CHRISTIN COYNE
Heroin is a significant and deadly problem for the Weatherford and Parker County area, those affected by and dealing with the issue say.
Last fall, within a month of each other, heroin claimed the lives of three men, all 24 years old at the time of their deaths and who attended Weatherford High School together.
Their families and friends say their battles with substance abuse began in their teens, something that local experts say is common. At least four others died of heroin-related causes in Parker County last year, as well, according to Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s records.
Bob Hopkins has spoken locally about the issue since his son died five years ago at the age of 18 due to heroin. He said he would like the community recognize substance abuse for the evil that it is.
“As a community, we have to admit that we have a drug problem,” Hopkins said.
“Almost every kid can tell you where to go to get drugs,” Hopkins said, adding that average parents don’t have a clue that an average student, no matter their grades or other factors, knows someone who can provide them drugs.
“The problem with heroin is it’s become so accepted,” Hopkins said. “But it spares nobody.”
Drug addiction is not a problem that Hopkins believes can be addressed on the federal or state level; rather, he said, it is something that needs to be tackled community by community.
Hopkins said he believes it’s time for city leaders to organize a task force. He would like to see people in leadership positions and in authority, such as judges, peace officers, attorneys, drug treatment providers and other community members come together on the same page and create a plan to address the deadly issue locally.
Drug enforcement should work hand in hand with prevention efforts, Hopkins said.
Hopkins said he believes the community needs to be trying to reach children at a younger age with the drug prevention message.
“I think we need programs in schools, not just a pamphlet,” Hopkins said.
There’s a problem
Substance abuse is a problem many local organizations are dealing with but some say parents and the community need to recognize the extent of the problem in order to properly address it.
Drug use seems to be more socially acceptable by those in high school than it was 20 years ago said Sgt. James Peel, a narcotics investigator with the Weatherford-Parker County Special Crimes Unit.
Though Weatherford is a small-town community, people need to realize that the area does have a drug problem as much as any other area, particularly because Weatherford is connected to Fort Worth, the investigator said, adding that drugs are easy to get.
He said they see high school students start using hard drugs at around 15 or 16 years old.
Because the potency can vary, heroin can kill even if it’s the first time someone’s used it, Peel said.
Charlene Larance, a licensed chemical dependency counselor and program director for Substance Abuse Guidance and Education, which provides outpatient services primarily to those on parole or probation, said there is definitely a local heroin issue.
Larance said she’s noticed many who end up addicted to heroin often are prescribed pain medication, such as vicodin or hydrocodone, and start abusing the opioids.
Many people seek treatment through methadone clinics or take Suboxone and become dependent on the prescription drugs, Larance said.
The poverty that often comes with addictions is something else that community members noted.
Chad Sears, a board member with Center of Hope, which seeks to address poverty in Parker County, and volunteers with its Jobs for Life program, estimated that about half the center’s resources are being used to battle the affects of addiction.
While a majority of those families are dealing with addictions to alcohol and methamphetamine, another significant group has issues with harder drugs like cocaine and heroin, Sears said.
There are several steps that families and parents can take, experts say.
“Just don’t enable the behavior and don’t make excuses,” Larance said. “When parents and loved ones see behavior changes, they should address it immediately.”
Signs of opiate or heroin use include nodding out and pinpoint pupils, while withdrawals typically manifest as flu-like symptoms, Larance said, adding that drug tests can be purchased at a pharmacy.
“Stay educated,” Peel advised parents. “Know who your kid’s friends are. Any time you see a drastic change in behavior, don’t let it go.”
He advised parents to pay attention to things like dropping grades, a change in sleep patterns, a lack of participation in events, a change in physical grooming or not caring about physical appearance.
For those already dealing with an addiction, there are difficult hurdles to becoming sober but there is hope, those dealing with substance abuse say.
“They’re up against genetics, culture, family history, environment,” said Sears, who has a background in chemical dependency counseling.
Often it’s loss, such as of a marriage or job, and pain that triggers a life change for those dealing with substance abuse issues, according to Sears.
Though the Center of Hope’s focus isn’t on substance abuse, it is one of the things they find clients need to address as a part of their plan of action.
Sears said he does teach one class about addiction as part of the Jobs for Life program and refers clients to outside detox, treatment or 12-step programs if that’s an issue.
And there are various options for those battling an addiction, including Millwood Hospital, in patient and out patient programs, and faith-based meetings, according to Larance.
She and others noted the recent efforts of IFC Wellness Coalition in providing information and hope to parents and others dealing with addictions during regular substance abuse rallies held at the Texas Opry Theater.
One of the issues raised by Hopkins and other family members who recently lost a loved one to heroin was a lack of knowledge about to get help.
Near Azle, Teen Challenge of Texas provides a year-long residential program for men who’re willing to change their life, said Desmond Atkins, vocational coordinator for the faith-based program.
It’s a busy, structured program that isn’t easy, according to Atkins.
Residents of the program, who are there voluntarily or are court-referred, participate in prayer three times a day, church several times a week, work and educational programs.
Though some participants come from as close as Azle, others are from Tennessee, Kansas and other states.
Thirty-two of 34 beds are currently filled at the location and they are constantly full, according to Atkins, who believes the community needs additional similar programs as they have to turn people away.
Over the last five years, many people have called him and said their child is addicted, Hopkins said. “The desperation is so heartfelt and so alarming. I don’t have the answers.”
His hope is that everybody can get on the same page, he said.