Nov. 17-One central message arose from a Wednesday event at Missouri Western State University: No matter how much it might be under the surface, every community needs to grapple with drug addiction.
This sums up the presentation by assistant professor Michael Birmingham, who teaches criminal justice at Missouri Western. Birmingham worked as a corrections officer and sheriff's deputy for nearly a decade, spoke on the mission of awareness of addiction alongside an effort to sign up MWSU students and others for the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, or NAADAC.
"What's important is how do we accommodate and address the issues folks are facing," Birmingham said. "We have an organization that supports the working professionals: the counselors, the prevention specialists. We provide a lot of training."
From his roots in Kansas City, Kansas, and during years of police work in Arkansas, Birmingham consistently found that addiction exists everywhere, in big cities, in suburbia, in rural America. It is also common for addicts to have nowhere to go except jail for treatment, such as it is. In his time as a maximum security prison guard, Birmingham said he essentially never saw convicts get clean through the resources available, and that translates throughout the system. The problem must be attacked before people get to that level, by social workers and law enforcement officers who have the training to help.
"As much as we want to say that the system is 'rehabilitative' - it's easy for us to send someone to jail or prison for their drug problem, and they'll come out cured of their problems - the reality is, things aren't in place to actually do that," Birmingham said.
Molly Thomas, member of the Family Guidance Center for Behavioral Health - one of the local organizations that supports NAADAC - attended Wednesday's event and exchanged with Birmingham on the public's awareness of addiction. The two concurred on one point, in that people from all walks of life tend to put drug dependency "out of sight, out of mind." Sometimes, they outright deny that it exists in the local area, at least on a level that needs to be addressed.
"We're finding it to be a struggle to get people to believe that it's an actual problem," Thomas said. "Or, that your child could possibly be hiding drugs somewhere or, would want to experiment and not realize that something is laced with fentanyl. The saying is, 'One pill could kill.'"
Marcus Clem can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @NPNowClem