Government and non-profit groups alike have worked diligently in the last three years to improve rural Dixie County’s drug and alcohol abuse problem.
Dixie County offers faith-based groups as a method of recovery. Transformers recovery program at Eagle Rock Church in Old Town provides classes focusing on faith and healing. Clayton Myers, Transformers founder, said Dixie County offers faith-based rehabilitation but lacks further help in the area.
“There is a high level of addiction, specifically to prescription medications and methamphetamines within the Dixie County area. It is very difficult for people to escape that lifestyle because there is not a whole lot of help here,” Myers said. “As far as I’m aware, there are no halfway houses and there is not in-house drug rehabilitation programs available within the Dixie County limits.”
Richard Anderson, Meridian Behavioral Healthcare chief clinical officer, said Meridian provides detox services, substance use disorder outpatient services, mobile response team crisis services along with a 24/7 hotline available in Dixie County. He said Dixie County substance use has been visible in recent years.
“We started to see the increase during the opium crisis where there were more and more demands for services,” Anderson said. “We ensure that we have what’s called Narcan, a medication that can be given to any person who may have overdosed off of an opioid. We make sure that is available for Dixie County residents.”
Anderson said the clinic in 2020 started to see an increase again in services. Myers said although the clinical services are helpful to some, Dixie County needs a more long-term solution service.
“People view them more as a, you know, a detox, as more of a quick simple fix, to an issue that really needs a long-term commitment on someone’s part to really overcome that. And so, when they go in for seven days and they come out, that’s just not enough time,” Myers said. “That’s one issue that we’ve really struggled with in this area is having some sort of a medium long-term commitment type of in-house program for people who are really trying to change.”
Katrina VanAernam, Dixie County Anti-Drug Coalition executive director, said substance abuse in Dixie County has been evident in recent years.
“In 2017, Dixie County was number one in the state for opioid-related death,” she said.
VanAernam said the coalition took action to combat opioid abuse by becoming a recipient of the rural community opioid response grant. From the grant, the coalition was able to hire a full-time community project manager who informs the public about substance abuse through education.
VanAernam said the coalition informs the public about services and prevention efforts.
“We are communicating with our community about the resources available to them and then educating our community about the data around substance abuse and mental illness in our community,” she said.
With COVID-19, recovery programs have seen the effects of the pandemic on those battling substance abuse. Myers said cutbacks in jobs have led to individuals becoming less motivated for recovery.
“We did see a spike and in increase in addiction and drug use and alcoholism during the whole lockdown period in Dixie County,” he said. “Most of them lost their jobs or at least were put on unemployment and suspended temporarily. So, it kind of took a toll on people around here.”
Nikie Waits, Christian 12 Step program facilitator at Seventh Day Adventist Church in Cross City, said the pandemic has taken a toll on some trying to overcome addiction.
“An addict’s worst place,” Waits said, “is in their own head.”