Bement meeting starts discussion of drug abuse
BEMENT — A meeting to discuss drug abuse in Bement Wednesday night ended up being part group therapy, part brain-storming, and a healthy dose of realization.
But most of all, it was a good start as the community comes to the conclusion that hard drugs such as heroin are more common than most had thought.
The community meeting was called in the wake of an apparent overdose-related death last Friday, and another near-fatal one on Sunday. Over 100 people turned out to relay their stories and ideas of how to keep people off drugs in the Piatt County community of 1,722.
"We just feel this is a very important time to come together as a community; to learn, to grow and to do a lot better for our kids," Village President Pat Tieman told the crowd. "The more eyes we have on this, the more that we can see."
Representatives from law enforcement, healthcare and mental health services were all present to weigh in, and audience members were brutally honest with the substance abuse issues they and their families had struggled with.
"I'm Andrew, I'm a recovering heroin addict and yesterday was my 60th day clean," said 22-year-old Andrew Fagin, who admitted it was difficult to ask for help. For that reason, he advised parents to keep alert for signs their children may be on drugs.
"You've got to watch for signs — things like not wanting to be around you, being out all night — you've just got to watch the little things," added Fagin, who received a round of applause after speaking.
Ashley Fultz of the IMPACT Coaltion of Piatt County welcomed all to get involved in their efforts to curb drug and alcohol abuse locally. She added they currently work in the school system and are trying to expand those efforts, and are hosting a town hall meeting of their own on May 20.
She added that scare tactics have their place in drug prevention, but that positive techniques are generally more effective in the long run.
"We try to use positive ideas to make sure we make good choices to stay healthy in the long run," added Fultz, a prevention specialist at the Piatt County Mental Health Center.
When asked what youth are using the most, she said "when it comes to teens, they're still using alcohol and marijuana the most."
Jodi Hess of Bement thought boredom may be a contributing factor to any youth drug problems the village faces.
"As a community, I think we need to find things for our kids to do. There's nothing here," commented Hess, saying it can be a struggle for her 12-year-old to find positive activities. "I don't want to keep my kid locked in the house — we need to find something for them to do."
The community operates a pool and a recreational ball league. Other ideas that came up were the possibility of art-related activities.
Tieman emphasized that problem is one of the entire community, not just village government. "I don't think we can expect the village to do everything, because we cannot."
Other ideas thrown out at the meeting included establishment of a Neighborhood Watch program and making sure there is less loitering at the downtown park.
From a law enforcement perspective, Piatt County Deputy Sgt. J.D. Russell said he will always listen to tips on possible drug activity, but that it helps if the information is concrete enough it can be acted on — such as names, license plates and makes and models of vehicles that are involved.
Responding to a statement that some parents are afraid to report suspicious activity, Sheriff David Hunt said "we rarely see retaliation."
The meeting was the brainchild of some concerned parents, who originally planned to hold it at a local restaurant but moved it to village hall as the potential crowd grew.
"When I started this I was thinking of a small group, and it kind of exploded which is great," said Tosha Hooker, one of the organizers of the meeting.
"I've lived here my whole life, and I want my kids to grow up in a town where this is not an issue," she added.