Sadly, much of the war against drug addiction is waged well after the damage has been done. Families and resource-thin organizations struggle to help, particularly in the current opioid crisis, in what essentially becomes a desperate rescue mission.

But there are significant proactive measures being taken as the U.S. has seen this rise to epidemic proportions, with some 115 deaths per day from opioid addiction.

Physicians are more judicious in prescribing opioids. Insurance companies are putting a ceiling on the dosage that can be prescribed. Law enforcement is becoming more strategic in rooting out the source. First-responders are more prepared with medicine to counterbalance an overdose.

Prevention is a lot less expensive in more ways than monetary for treatment and recovery.”

There is another measure being taken: Education and early counseling.

That’s the role of the Partnership for a Drug-Free Community in Huntsville.

It has been a strong force here for more than three decades, led by the late Deborah Soule, the organization’s only executive director until her death last October.

It recently celebrated an Open House in its new headquarters at 2201 Clinton Avenue and Candice Dunaway has moved into Soule’s position as executive director.

Prevention is the focus

“Our organization focuses on prevention,” Dunaway says, “because prevention is a lot less expensive in more ways than monetary for treatment and recovery. If you can educate people about the dangers of substance abuse, it’s more likely they won’t go off the deep end.”

The Partnership has several outreach programs targeting teens, including “Today’s Youth, Tomorrow’s Leaders,” which has trained teenagers to be able to speak to their peers about the dangers of drug abuse.

It is also a partnership in the true sense of word, bringing together local entities – law enforcement, social agencies, etc. — to share knowledge and resources.

“Much of the success of Huntsville Police can be credited to our partnerships in the community,” said HPD Chief Mark McMurray. “This has been one of our most successful collaborations.”

What’s going on

With the Open House behind them, Partnership staff and volunteers remain busy with activities and outreach. Here’s a sampling:

Medication Take Back Days. People may drop off expired and unused medications at five different locations, helping minimize the chances of the drugs falling into the wrong hands. The locations are: Huntsville Public Safety Building on Wheeler Ave.; Madison Police Department; Alabama A&M Student Health and Counseling Center; the CVS pharmacies at 2210 Winchester Road and in Meridianville.

Public Meetings.  Sgt. Terry Lucas of Huntsville Police was the guest speaker at a recent Partnershp Board meeting that was open to the public. Lucas heads HPD’s Anti-Crime team, which has met with great success in removing drugs and guns from the street in its strategic efforts.

The annual Legacy Fun Day is June 8 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the Jaycee Building at John Hunt Park. It is a carnival atmosphere, with activities and entertainment geared toward elementary school children. This year’s title is “Too Cool For Drugs.”

Free Drug-Testing Kits. A new initiative has just begun, offering free drug-testing kits to parents who might have suspicions about their children but want more confidentiality. Contact the Partnership for information.

The opioid crisis strikes everywhere

The opioid epidemic is a uniquely challenging social problem that can’t be defeated through a municipality’s budget, a government’s legislation or a police department’s diligence.

It knows no socio-economic boundaries. It tears apart families and claims victims in the tony suburbs equally as much as in the inner cities or rural communities. Says Dunaway, “It’s everywhere.”

The consensus among experts is that the painkillers were too generously prescribed by the medical community in the late 1990s and early 2000s, unaware of how addictive they might be.

Users became too reliant on them. The prevalence led to their availability and use recreationally. As the costs rose, less-expensive alternatives were sought, such as heroin, which too often can be laced with lethal doses of fentanyl. Says Dunaway, “We kind of created a new monster by trying to clamp down on the prescription opioids.”

That’s an overly simple roadmap that gets us to where we are now, but it’s a typical path for many of those 115 Americans lost each day in this crisis.

While progress in recovery and treatment might shrink that number, groups like the Partnership for a Drug-Free Community try to shrink it before another victim is caught up in trap.