“We’ve all heard about drug problems our whole lives and we thought this was somewhere else,” said Mike Marshall at a recent Stokes County Concerned Citizens (SCCC) meeting, “Not here, not in Stokes County. It’s something that happens in the big cities; it happens in faraway places. Unfortunately, I think we’re all coming to realize that it can happen anywhere and to anybody.”
Marshall helped spearhead SCCC, a local group formed after the recent deaths of two young people who overdosed in December. On Thursday evening, SCCC hosted a forum to a full auditorium at South Stokes High School.
“Our goal for Stokes County Concerned Citizens is to find the people that have a need or find the people that have a desire to help and put them in touch with the right organizations,” Marshall said. “A lot of people are under the misconception that nothing is being done and that’s simply not true. There’s tons of agencies that are trying to help and that’s one of the things we want to do, is connect people with these agencies.”
Stokes County Fire Marshal Brian Booe, who also oversees Stokes Operation Medicine Drop, said there’s been a rise of prescription drug misuse and abuse.
“We takeback prescription medication and out-of-date prescriptions that people have in their homes and we safely dispose of them. We’ve collected over a million doses in the past four years,” he said. “People believe that you can put medicine down the drain, down the toilet and now those things are starting to show up in our septic systems and our rivers.”
Stokes County provides three permanent drop off sites to get rid of unwanted medications at King Police Department, Stokes County Sheriff’s office and the Walnut Cove License Plate Agency.
Booe described collecting eight trash bags full of medicine at one home.
“That could have potentially gotten into someone’s hand that could have turned around and sold them. The problem isn’t new. It isn’t a King problem or Walnut Cove problem; it’s a county problem. We have programs in the school system and in the community. We’ve just got to get the message out and get people on board.”
Stokes County Sheriff Mike Marshall said there’s been an increase in drug charges in recent years, climbing from 1,200 to more than 4,000 in the community.
“We’re seeing less and less of your common street drugs and we’re seeing more of heroin, opioids, pills and prescriptions. When you have prescriptions strong enough to do some damage, treat it like a gun, especially around your kids,” Marshall said. “The sheriff’s department works tirelessly to try and take care of the problem. We hear ‘You’ve ruined a child’s life’, but there’s a lot of people who would love to be able to talk to their child.”
One of those mother’s is Gail Bennett, who shared the story of her son, Ritchie.
“I’m sorry you’re having to be here. I’m really sorry I’m here. Every nineteen minutes someone dies of an overdose from prescription drugs,” she said.
The audibly shaken mother said her son was dedicated in church at a young age, was the prom king at school and grew up to play basketball at Surry Community College.
Bennett’s son began experimenting with pills and after a 2009 car accident, doctor’s began prescribing an excessive amount to the young addict.
“We fussed, we screamed, threw him out and then brought him back. I would beg him to stop, and he would say, ‘Do you think I really want to be like this?’
Bennett said her son went to a doctor on Friday and had passed away by six o’clock the next morning.
“That doctor gave him 180 OxyContin. Is that ridiculous? Is that not ridiculous?” she said. “All that you’re doing is a good thing. Every one of you can go out and try to make a difference. I’ll tell you what, we won’t stop it, but we can at least slow it down. Maybe we can save your family, your loved one. If we can just save one. I wish mine would have been the one. We’ve got to try and make something good out of something horrible that’s happened.”
Amanda Dodson may be reached at 336-813-2426.s