WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Thursday forum to explore local heroin epidemic

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Officials say it’s a crisis that could wipe out a generation if communities don’t recognize and unite in the fight against heroin and opioid addiction. It’s also claiming the lives of friends, family members and loved ones from all races, socioeconomic backgrounds and ages.

“If we don’t get a handle on this now, this next generation won’t have a chance to make it,” said Mike Cannon. “We’ve got to do something. It’s touching every family.”

Cannon and his wife, Becky, know the pain all too well. They lost their beloved son, Jonathan, as a result of a heroin overdose in August 2015. Since then, they’ve made it their mission to get those suffering from addiction the help they need as well as provide support to family and friends who often don’t know where to turn when a loved one is going through such a dark place.

“Our goal is to not only increase awareness but want people to have a better understanding what’s going on,” Cannon said.

That’s why the couple has organized a Community Awareness Drug Forum at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Wilson Community College’s DelMastro Auditorium. Cannon encourages anyone to attend the event where a diverse panel of officials will answer questions and shed light on the realities of the heroin epidemic that hits closer to home than most people realize.

The panel will include local law enforcement, health care professionals, school administrators, the recovery community, parents of children going through recovery and a representative from the faith-based community.

Admission is free. Doors open at 6 p.m.

A Drug Enforcement Administration agent will also be at the forum and show a video of him interviewing a heroin dealer in Wilson who is now in prison as well as a heroin addict.

“For people who have never been exposed to it, it’s a look behind the curtain,” Cannon said. “Here’s the world your kids are playing in. The language is raw. We really need a shake-up in this community. We are trying to tear down the walls.”

He said organizers want to show the community what the drug culture looks like and how it is affecting the community as a whole.

“We have all these people who can answer your questions,” he said. “If you have a kid in high school or middle school, you need to know what’s going on.”

‘IT’S IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD’

Families have suffered the loss of loved ones who became addicted to heroin, a drug that often leads to overdose deaths. And what starts out as addiction to prescription pain medication leads to heroin use, according to law enforcement officials. Heroin is also cheaper than prescription painkillers, officials say.

Heroin’s availability has been on the rise at epidemic levels, causing more overdose deaths than at any other time in the last decade, according to research.

And it’s vital, officials say, for community members to understand that heroin doesn’t just plague a particular part of town or a specific group of people.

“We are all surrounded by it,” Cannon said. “It’s in every neighborhood.”

Cannon said the forum is also a chance for community members to connect with agencies on how they can get involved and volunteer.

“We have agencies who need volunteers,” he said. “We have a lot of people and agencies in our community working really hard.”

But, he said, they need more “boots on the ground.”

“Your action could save a life and the life you save could be the life of a loved one,” he said.

He said groups also hope to build a database for those who have an interest in volunteering with local agencies who desperately need the help in the fight.

“We are going to drive this thing and push it,” he said. “It’s really going to take a village.”

‘ONE VOICE, ONE HEART, SAME MESSAGE’

The forum is headed up by the JCANS Foundation, which he and his wife named after his son. Each event the Cannons hold will be under the umbrella of what they call, “Revolution. One Voice. One Heart.”

“We think it’s going to take a revolution to change it,” Cannon said. “We have to have one voice, one heart and the same message so that we can really make a change.”

He said they hope to put on more forums in the coming months uniting all walks of life and agencies as well as elected officials to make a difference in the Wilson community.

Thursday’s event is sponsored by Wilson Community College.

olivia@wilsontimes.com | 265-7879

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