Continuing the fight

Published 8:00 am Thursday, March 8, 2018

Community to assemble for second opioid forum March 20

MILL SPRING — After sparking a discussion about the abuse of opioids and other drugs in the community last fall, residents and leaders in Polk County will look to keep the fire of progress lit this month.

The county’s human services agency is teaming with other entities in the area to host a second forum on opioid and substance abuse. The event will take place 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20, at Polk County Middle School, 321 Wolverine Trail, Mill Spring.

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The public is invited to attend the discussion, and may register to participate by visiting Refreshments will be provided.

The forum is intended to help Polk County organizations and agencies determine ways they can work more closely together to help recognize addiction issues within the community, as well as to better coordinate local prevention and treatment programs, said Joshua Kennedy, director of the Polk County Consolidated Human Services Agency.

“Substance abuse is an issue we [human services] are deeply concerned about,” Kennedy said. “It’s something that not only affects the lives of users, but their families and children. Ultimately, it affects the entire community.”

The event follows the first forum on opioid and substance abuse the county hosted in October 2017 in Tryon. The discussion was spurred on by a challenge from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, who prompted county commissions across the state to host forums with community members and stakeholders to discuss the opioid epidemic, which President Donald Trump declared a national public health emergency last fall.

“The [Polk County commissioners] threw their support behind it, because they saw opioid abuse as something we could tackle that could make a change in people’s lives,” Kennedy said.

Members of the Polk County community have been vigilant about fighting addiction issues related to opioid pain medications — as well as with alcohol and drugs such as heroin — Kennedy said. Organizations such as the Polk Substance Abuse Coalition have spent the last several years working to address the abuse of prescription pills in the community, he said.

The first forum was attended by around 90 people, including Polk County elected officials and law enforcement, representatives with local healthcare agencies, business owners, and others.

“We are fortunate to live in a small community, where everyone values each other’s opinions,” Kennedy said. “Even our larger partners, like St. Luke’s Hospital, are willing to talk and be part of the solution. People look out for each other, which is good.”

During the meeting, attendees honed in on two aspects — identifying signs of addiction and bolstering local prevention and substance abuse treatment programs — which the county should improve moving forward, Kennedy said.

The March 20 forum will help different elements of the community come together to discuss how to address those two areas of concern, with the goal of producing positive outcomes for those struggling with opioid addiction.

Kennedy said he intends to track the progress made to fight substance abuse over the next 12 months, in hopes of using the results to apply for a federal Drug-Free Communities grant, which will allow Polk County agencies to do even more to combat opioid abuse issues within the area.

The director is looking to improve on the attendance from the October forum, seeking around 120 guests for the March 20 event. Anyone and everyone, regardless of their background or profession, is welcome to sign up and attend.

“No bystanders are allowed,” Kennedy said. “This is everyone’s opportunity to come to the table and be part of the solution.”

For more information about the event, contact Kennedy at 828-894-2114 or at