COLUMN: Facing the challenge head-on

By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer

The novel coronavirus pandemic has dominated our news feeds and weighed heavily on our minds the last several months.

Each day we’re confronted with new numbers of administered tests, confirmed cases, hospitalizations, deaths and presumed recoveries, and we wonder when this dark cloud hanging over us will dissipate.

Unfortunately, the presence of COVID-19 has also exacerbated existing problems in our communities, such as substance abuse and addiction.

As we continue the fight against the virus, our county leaders are also urging us to continue the fight against drug addiction, particularly among teens and young adults, through initiatives like Shelby County Compact.

Launched as Compact 2020 in 2016, the prevention initiative’s purpose is to identify students who are at-risk for drug addiction and to provide resources to help them and their families get back on track.

Compact is implemented across the county through collaborative community coalitions, with volunteer prevention teams tasked with creating and maintaining change in each city.

The initiative is based on a collaborative agreement among the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, Shelby County Commission, Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, local municipalities and school systems.

Although Compact utilizes law enforcement officers to gather information in identifying at-risk teens, the goal is not to arrest them, but to meet with their parents and connect them with resources to help tackle the problem through family counseling, mental health and substance abuse services and other avenues.

Shelby County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Clay Hammac, executive director of Compact, said the program has identified more than 650 students classified as at-risk and has been able to intervene and make numerous families aware of issues with which their children are silently struggling.

“Our point is to save lives,” Hammac said at a Chelsea City Council meeting on July 7.

The goal is the same as it was when Compact launched four years ago, albeit with the added layer of the COVID-19 pandemic to consider now.

According to a TheHill.com article shared on the Compact 2020 Facebook page in late June, a survey of more than 1,000 people conducted by the Addiction Policy Forum – an advocacy group for people with substance use disorders – found that 20 percent said they or a family member have increased substance use since COVID-19 began. Four percent of people reported overdoses, 1 percent of which were fatal.

Concerns have surfaced about the stress of the pandemic leading to an increase in the number of people addicted to substances, or potentially causing people with substance use disorders to relapse, according to the article.

It’s a disheartening situation, especially with uncertainty lingering about the virus itself and when an effective vaccine for it could be ready.

In the midst of the turmoil, though, we can at least support initiatives like Compact that have the capacity to help people escape the dark hole of drug addiction before it’s too late.

To learn more, visit Shelbyal.com/748/Compact-2020 or Facebook.com/COMPACT2020.