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Pastors confront heroin epidemic

Sheriff’s workshop unites, informs Wilson County faith leaders

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When Lt. Brad Carter began working in the narcotics division more than a decade ago, members dealt mostly with crack and powder cocaine. But that has changed over the past few years.

“We have a drug taking over and it’s an epidemic,” Carter said. “It’s called heroin.”

Carter was one of several detectives who spoke during the third annual Sheriff and Pastors Unity Breakfast Wednesday. Dozens of faith-based leaders attended the summit put on by Wilson County Sheriff Calvin Woodard at the Wilson Agricultural Center. Spiritual leaders here gained vital information on various topics including the heroin crisis as well as guidance on protocols and prevention measures that can be put in place during active-shooter incidents.

“It’s affecting people across the board,” Carter said about the heroin epidemic that is plaguing communities here and beyond. Carter gave a presentation on the various angles of heroin and how it affects the community.

He said what starts out as an addiction to prescription pain medication is leading to heroin use. Those pills are now more expensive on the street level, causing those addicted to it to seek a cheaper alternative, which is heroin.

The first time users try heroin, they get that “ultimate high,” he said, adding that it gives people that “rush or euphoric feeling.”

“They will spend the rest of their lives chasing that initial high,” Carter said.

Carter also shared information on signs of heroin use as well as symptoms of withdrawals. He also discussed how the sheriff’s office is combating the problem through a variety of ways, including large-scale drug investigations.

Leaders listened attentively Wednesday, taking notes and oftentimes appearing surprised at the information given to them by the sheriff’s office. Woodard said it’s vital for the faith-based community to have knowledge on issues that affect the Wilson community each day. He said pastors are on the front lines and he hopes holding these types of summits unites them all in working together to make Wilson County a safer place.

‘LIVES START FALLING APART’

Carter made leaders aware what drug dealers are cutting heroin with, which includes Fentanyl, a powerful narcotic that can be lethal even in small doses.

“This is a deadly drug,” Carter said, adding that it’s a product often cut with heroin to give it more strength. And it’s also responsible for the rise of overdose deaths.

“It’s dangerous for everybody,” he said. “It’s dangerous for law enforcement to deal with.”

Carter said there is also an increase in hepatitis C and HIV across the country because heroin is usually injected. And those needles are reused and shared, posing another health crisis for those who use heroin.

He told pastors heroin is being used by people of every race, every socioeconomic status, gender and age group. He said the general public might not recognize the signs of a heroin user who may be in the early stages.

But after six months to a year, users’ life begins to change dramatically.

“You will see their lives start falling apart,” he said.

Carter said some who have never been involved in crime before may begin to break into homes, steal from loved ones and even turn to prostitution. Heroin takes over, they may lose their job or home and they have to find another way to fuel that habit.

He said deputies have seen men and women conceal track marks by applying makeup on their arms. Others inject heroin between their toes and fingers in an effort to conceal the needle impressions.

THE ‘JESUS DRUG’

Carter told the pastors that deputies have all gone through extensive training when it comes to opioid crisis and that they have been armed with naloxone for more than a year now. Naloxone, which is commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is an opioid reversal antidote, which has saved the lives of many who overdose on heroin.

He said a federal agent once told him that Narcan is known by users as the “Jesus drug,” because it will revive a person who is thought to be dead.

“We’ve seen it deployed on people,” he said, adding that there have been many times where authorities thought a user had died of an overdose only to deploy the antidote and see him or her sitting up and very much alive several minutes later.

Pastors shared their concerns about the heroin epidemic, some even knowing people who are addicted to the powerful drug. Leaders also wanted to know how they can help the sheriff’s office to combat the problem, providing support to those in desperate need of help.

Carter told faith leaders it meant the world to the sheriff’s office that they were there on Wednesday.

“It means you care,” he said. “To know you’ve got the arm of the churches behind you is strong.”

‘THEY AREN’T GOING TO RUIN OUR COMMUNITY’

The summit also gives the sheriff’s office a chance to give spiritual leaders an update on the work deputies are doing throughout the community. Woodard explained the various programs they are using to help young people stay out of trouble as well as operations held throughout the year aimed at combating drugs here. He said each operation is thought out carefully, investigated thoroughly and prioritized.

“I’m not scared of these drug dealers,” Woodard said. “They aren’t going to ruin our community.”

Woodard said his office has made many significant arrests of those selling large quantities of heroin. Deputies have also started taking their investigations to the federal level, where dealers are sent away for longer periods of time. And that sends a message to others.

“We are going to make sure Wilson County is safe,” he said.

SAFETY IN THE CHURCH

Lt. Jeremy Renfrow gave a presentation on providing direction for places of worship regarding reasonable safety measures to confront a variety of threats and emergencies they may face during church services and events.

The guide given to leaders Wednesday discussed several actions that can be taken before, during and after an incident in order to reduce the impact on people, property and loss of life, officials said.

Other topics included churches forming their own security teams, security plans, safety needs and evacuation procedures if an active-shooter threat were to arise.

olivia@wilsontimes.com | 265-7879

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