AMORY – Monroe County prosecutor Candy Blalock was emcee at a town hall meeting about substance abuse at the Old Armory Nov. 12. In her introductory remarks, she warned that problems associated with substance abuse are trickling into the chancery court system.
“Grandparents and great-grandparents are raising children because parents aren’t able to,” she said. ‘I don’t know of a better way to get ahold of this than to educate people.”
Keynote speaker for the evening was Jimmy Nichols, field representative for 3rd District Congressman Michael Guest in central Mississippi. Nichols served for nearly 30 years with the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics.
“Crack cocaine was just coming on the scene when I started working narcotics. I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff,” he said.
Nichols shared combined facts about substance abuse with before and after photos of the effects of substance abuse on people.
“Over 66 percent of [Mississippi] high school seniors are involved with alcohol, and 45 percent are involved with marijuana,” he said.
Nichols made a reference to the medical marijuana ballot initiative that was approved by the majority of voters across the state in November’s general election.
“We’re the only state to have marijuana in our constitution now,” he said.
He pointed out that marijuana and methamphetamines are the two top illegal drugs being used in Mississippi.
“Unfortunately, a lot of abuse is started legitimately,” he said.
Nichols conceded that he drank as a young person.
“I thought I was cool and cute. It like to got me. I’m lucky to have a career in law enforcement,” he said.
He educated attendees on basic information about illegal substances.
“A drug is anything that is taken in the body that causes physiological or psychological change,” he said.
He went on to describe how drug addiction frequently begins with using painkillers and proceeds into using progressively stronger and more lethal drugs.
“It’s in our nature to want something a little bit better (over time). Our bodies build up tolerance,” he said.
He used graphic images that showed the effects of methamphetamines.
“Meth works its way into the bloodstream. It produces skin rash and itching that we call meth mites sores. It affects the internal organs and the immune system by breaking down the body’s natural response system,” he said.
He explained various types of drugs, such as spice, bath salts, fentanyl and heroin. He detailed the typical effects that can be expected from each, including violent behavior.
“The best advice I can give is to stay away from it,” he said.
Blalock recruited a couple of her former clients to share their experiences recovering from drug abuse. While both of them have been clean for a number of years, they readily admitted that they will always consider themselves addicts although they are no longer users. Both spoke of being enabled by loving parents who had the best of intentions.
“They loved me into the ground,” one said.
The recovered addicts are now productive citizens who credited the efforts of the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and the Mississippi Department of Corrections in giving them the motivation to pursue life free of substance abuse.
“Ten percent of the population has active substance abuse disorder. Substance abuse leaves you with three options – die, go to prison or get sober,” one said.
The town hall included a question and answer session chaired by District Attorney John Weddle.
“Ninety percent of cases on our docket are drug-related. It’s a huge problem. I want the addicts to know that I’m their biggest cheerleader. It’s too bad that not many success stories get in the press,” he said.