Have you traveled to or lived in a place that took your breath away because of the people and natural beauty? And did your impression change because beneath the glittering surface lay a dark underbelly?
In some ways that happened to us when we pulled stakes and moved to East Tennessee, a region where even young people wave, say hello, and knock themselves out opening doors for middle-aged women like me. So polite are the people, no one has ever flipped me off, even though my sometimes-aggressive driving probably warrants it.
Our adopted state charms us.
But the blinders are gone.
Though world-renowned for its mountainous beauty and friendly people, a dark underbelly plagues our community. Not confined to East Tennessee or other regions in the state, the dark underbelly is everywhere. But I’ll concentrate on what’s happening here because my eyes were opened here.
The underbelly is opioid abuse.
According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), about 70,000 Tennesseans abuse opioids, making the Volunteer State third in the country for prescription drug abuse. While prescription drug abuse is down, the prevalence of heroin, fentanyl, and its derivatives has surged.
Through my involvement with ReUnite Ministries, working with women who’ve lost custody of their children primarily because of drug abuse, and meeting people, like recovered drug addict, Tylor Trotter, the underbelly has become real to me.
Citing statistics and dutifully reporting the opinions of law enforcement officials isn’t the focus of this story. Giving voice to attorneys who have observed the effects of the opioid crisis firsthand and getting your opinions are.
Attorney Sarah Miracle specializes in criminal defense and serves on ReUnite Ministries’ Advisory Committee with me. At our first committee meeting, she off-handedly commented that the opioid epidemic had annihilated an entire generation of young people in our county of 138,000 souls.
That got my attention. Was the epidemic really that bad? An entire generation?
“Heroin and fentanyl are the problems now,” Sarah says. “Fentanyl is especially scary. Everything is getting laced with it. I’ve heard of police officers, who were picking up evidence and overdosed. That’s how potent that stuff is.”
Users and sellers come from all socioeconomic groups and congregate in cheap motels along major highways and in houses tucked away in the countryside or the mountain hollers. “It’s happening all over the county,” she says. “The relapses break my heart, people who were clean and then used. It was the last mistake they made.”
Just as heartbreaking to Sarah is the plight of poor mountain people. Unlike the wealthy, they can’t afford recovery programs. And because they’re already distrustful of authority figures, they are the most difficult to reach with whatever free services are available.
So, they suffer alone and isolated, and the abuse continues from one generation to the next.
Attorney Brittany Nestor has personal experience with the drug scene. After the death of her father, she began using drugs and alcohol at age 14. She finished high school in rehab, missed her senior prom, and ultimately escaped. She graduated college and then earned a law degree.
In 2015, she moved back to Blount County where she now practices family and juvenile law. She takes court-appointed cases and often finds herself “across from or representing many of my old friends and peers from my crazy high school days.”
The situation was bad enough in the late 1990s and early 2000s, she says. It’s since exploded.
“No one would touch a needle” in her teenage years, she says. When she moved back, people she knew were shooting heroin. “I’m tired of seeing my former friends and classmates dying,” she says. “Literally, I will look into their faces, and think, they’re going to die.”
The wreckage is everywhere. “Everyone is drowning in the system,” she says. The courts are overcrowded, as is the jail. Too few detox and mental-health facilities exist to accommodate the burgeoning need. And too few affordable after-school programs exist for at-risk kids.
Grandparents are raising grandkids because their own children are in jail or deep into addiction, and so the cycle continues.
What Do You Think?
The dark underbelly isn’t unique to Tennessee. It affects people everywhere. Dear friends and acquaintances living in other parts of the country have lost children to opioid overdoses.
What do you think? Is the opioid problem getting worse, as Brittany and Sarah believe? What are the root causes? How do we eradicate the dark under belly?
I’d love to hear your opinions and devote another blog post to the answers you provide.
Email or comment below. Post an answer on my Facebook page. And please don’t worry if your ideas go against the grain. Censure doesn’t happen here.
All too real for many families. Cuts across socioeconomic, ethnic and age groups without discrimination . We hear news that someone died of an overdose and think”how sad”. Thankful it wasn’t our child or sibling. Knowing it could be but for the grace of God.
So the question I ask is what is our government doing to stem this devastating social, mental health and medical crisis. I also ask…What can I do that will be effective.
Opening up government funded free space for drug use is not the answer. Giving away clean needles hasn’t worked. Locking up addicts isn’t treating root cause. Access to product must be curtailed before any other measures will be meaningful.
The underbelly is everywhere but when it is exposed we must have comprehensive plans to deal with it.
Thanks, Norene, for taking time to comment. Your opinions and others will be included in a follow-up post. Just hope I get enough people to respond to produce a meaningful post :)!
Local Mother Requesting a Chance to Have a Voice
I found Brittany Nestor’s statement to be VERY misleading: “Grandparents are raising grandkids because their own children are in jail or deep into addiction, and so the cycle continues.” I can speak personally to this fact:THAT is not always the reason why Grandparents are raising Grandchildren, but it is often a lie that is told, or extremely exaggerated, as a court room tactic. Let me share some facts about the law, so that Brittany Nestor, and this blog, does not continue the defamation of the character of Mothers and Fathers who are separated from their children (a circumstance which data shows increases attempted suicide rates by ten fold in the U.S. for both the parents and the children involved). If a Grandparent is raising a Grandchild, is does not have to have ANYTHING to do with any wrong-doing whatsoever. It is important to know the law. And here is something that I can share with you about the Law, which Brittany might have failed to educate the blog readers about. It is imperative for citizens, especially Christians, to know and understand so that they may lift up their fellow citizens, and show them love and compassion. The courts and the community really lack, in a serious and severe way, a system that supports the preservation of families and also lacks the support of re-unification of families. Sometimes parents and children are separated due to very serious and brutal and cruel custody battles. These battles can be started by false allegations, vague claims, intentional and malicious lies, false police reports, and much more. Sometimes, a tactic that attorneys use to blind-side unsuspecting, hard-working parents, is to file something called “A Petition for Emergency Custody with Ex Parte”. Some parts of the United States are starting to crack down on these, because they are so often abused in the courts systems historically in order to take advantage of the working poor, single Moms, single Dads, people who can’t afford expensive legal counsel, people who don’t know their Federal Due Process Rights, and also those who are disabled and who are minorities. Also, they are starting to crack down on them, and grant them less often, because they are starting to face major lawsuits as a result of the mis-use of these granted Petitions. I personally am a single Mother, who is 37 years old at the time of typing this comment, and who has worked and simultaneously continued my education since the age of 14. I am also medically disabled, and have had 4 major surgeries as the result of complex Stage IV Endometriosis which destroyed my insides. I can no longer have children. I am college educated, and continue my education life-long daily, with additional certifications, courses, and continuing ed for multiple categories of education in sales and health related fields. In a Petition for Emergency Custody with Ex Parte, an individual can literally drop their child off at school, who they raise for 12 years with no child support, and never see them in person ever again. Sounds shocking right?! It is! A Judge can literally say, “Well I suspect that maybe there is a small and minimal chance that maybe Person A could be making a true statement about Person B. There is no investigation done into whether or not these statements are true. In the matter of minutes, that Judge can grant a custody change of your child to another person while you are work, and your child is at school. One that parent and child is separated, attorneys use tactics to drag out the case, confuse and take advantage of the accused, and keep the parent and child separate and without any communication. In some cases the accused parent never has their right to Adjudication honored, on some cases they could be grossly mis-represented by their Privately Hired or Court Appointed Attorney. And in other cases, it could be 8 months or longer before an Adjudication is ever done. By the time the Adjudication happens, the child has been completely traumatized, forced to switch schools, has no right to have a full truth told to them about any of their circumstances, and their mind is poisoned about the parent who they have been separated from. In addition to this extreme trauma for both parent and child, the new guardian has all rights to make medical decisions, including the ability to cancel pre-existing doctors appointments with specialists for asthma medication refills or cardiology studies, and can schedule new appointment to put the child on a long list of other medications, even ones which have given the child adverse reactions in the past, and even mind altering drugs that the biological parent would not approve of. There is a very serious problem in Blount County, in Tennessee, and in the US, with our custody courts, juvenile courts, and court systems in general. They have been turned into places that maximize financial incentives for attorneys who create billable hours for themselves by complicating rifts in families instead of working hard to heal and preserve and until families. The family court system in many cases behaves like a Terrorist Attack on the bodies, minds, spirits, and finances of the family unit. It needs a lot of legislative modification, more checks and balances, and most of all swifter and steeper penalties for those who abuse it. Currently there is little to nothing that can be done in a timely fashion to help protect families dragged into custody battles. The person with the most friends in town, or the slightly nicer house, or friend in the court house gets a little special treatment, and the other person is defamed until they almost everything they have worked for their entire life is stolen from them. Children are pawns in a chess game. They are people with futures. And the system should be designed to do EVERYTHING imaginable to preserve the family unit, rather than financially incentivize a system them creates billable hours for heart-less, God-less attorneys who’s hearts and minds are lost in this world.
Thank you for sharing your opinion. It’s obvious this blog post touched a nerve. If you’d like to discuss this further, please go to my “contact” page and leave a phone number. I’d be happy to talk with you.