Tanya Southerland and the GRAAB board have called for Bradley County and Cleveland residents to embrace effective change for a brighter and drug-free tomorrow.
Going Respectively Against Addictive Behaviors is a coalition dedicated to lowering the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs and addictive behaviors.
“We are hoping to gain members who want to make a change in drug and alcohol use in their own community so we can help Bradley County be a better place,” said Keith Brock, board vice president.
Added Southerland, organizers are seeking “[people who have] a willingness to help us create a community change, to help us achieve our goals and spread the awareness of substance abuse.”
Coalition meetings occur every month with the next one taking place Feb. 21, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the YMCA’s community room.
Southerland said a safe and drug-free community requires bringing together, “A diverse group of people with a range of experience and skills.” Parents, teachers, neighbors and friends are needed to help the coalition meet its goals.
Anyone over the age of 18 may join the board.
“The more people we have involved, the more opportunities we have for new events and ideas. ... There are a lot of opportunities and a huge need,” said Tim Tatum, board president.
Tatum is the director of behavioral health at Pine Ridge Center. Every day he fields questions on drug abuse and addiction through calls and appointments. He sees a large need in Bradley County and Cleveland.
“Do we have the same problem an inner city [area] may have? I think so,” Tatum said. “We just do not see it as much because it is not in just one area. It is throughout the community.”
Several years ago “fishbowl parties” were popular among Cleveland’s youth, Tatum said. Pills were mixed together in a bowl and partygoers would grab from several pills to a handful. Blood thinners, narcotics and allergy meds were potentially thrown back at one time in a highly concentrated dose.
The danger was real, but it did not appear to be.
“It looks like everybody is grabbing [candy] when they are actually grabbing all sorts of medication,” Tatum said.
“If I am at a party and I am an adolescent, and my friends are putting three, four, six pills in their mouths — and it doesn’t look dangerous— then I am more likely to engage in the activity. It is not like they have needles out, or weed ....”
“There is a huge myth saying because it is FDA-approved it is safer than pot or meth or something off the street. Really, it is just as dangerous.”
Added Keith, “The big key for drug and alcohol use is availability. If it is all over the home, if parents are smoking weed or doing oxycontin, it is available. There is a lot of tolerance among people who do drugs.”
Change requires increased involvement by community members. Southerland said being a part of GRAAB is not a time-consuming commitment. Volunteers determine their hours of availability. One person may have five hours a week to volunteer, while another only has five hours a month.
Five hours a month covers one coalition meeting and one board meeting with a couple hours left over to help GRAAB prepare for an event.
Youth are encouraged to become involved alongside adults.
“If there are youth who wish to be active in the community and take the lead with activities, then join. We are looking for youth to help out,” Southerland said.
“Youth who are involved are less likely to fall into the traps of risk behavior. Any age ... youths who want to help are welcomed.”
GRAAB seeks to shed light on drug abuse and addiction myths. For example, parents who believe drug abuse could never be a problem in their household.
“Of course, we all hope and pray it doesn’t for anyone, but the reality is that it does. It does not affect one socioeconomic class only. It affects them all.”
Added Brock, “They are in terrible denial. I have heard many people say, ‘Wow, I had no idea my husband or my daughter or my brother were using drugs.’ Sometimes they saw the signs, but they were in denial.”
More information on upcoming GRAAB events and meetings can be found by visiting GRAAB’s website at www.thegraabcoalition.com or calling Southerland at 423-472-5800.