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Jonathan Johnson, treasurer of Coalition for a Brighter Greene, talks Friday afternoon during the group’s quarterly “stakeholders” meeting at the Greene County Courthouse.

WAYNESBURG – Nearly a year ago, hundreds gathered in Greene County Courthouse for a town hall meeting to discuss ideas on how to curb the heroin epidemic that has gripped the region.

One of the ideas that came out of the October meeting was the formation of the Coalition for a Brighter Greene.

Since then, the group organized various events and education seminars, most notably a march and rally at Greene County Fairgrounds in May.

But the coalition has more work to do, its treasurer Jonathan Johnson told a group of 30 people at its quarterly “stakeholders” meeting Friday afternoon in the courthouse’s law library. They’ve acknowledged there is a heroin and opioid problem in Greene County, Johnson said, and they continue searching for solutions.

“I think we’re out of the dark. The light has been turned on,” Johnson said. “Change is upon us and that’s the hard part, when the work begins. We need everyone on board.”

Several people discussed during the meeting initiatives undertaken over the past year, both through the coalition and partnering organizations. In addition to the rally, there were re-entry job fairs for those convicted of crimes, video presentations and discussions with school leaders.

Greene County Sheriff Brian Tennant talked about the importance of prevention, education, treatment and enforcement.

“There’s no magic bullet. It needs to be multi-faceted,” Tennant said. “It’s a terrible cycle and no one is exempt from it.”

Tennant pointed to how his department is implementing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, or D.A.R.E., in each of the county’s five school districts. The drug prevention program will be geared toward children in 4th and 5th grades.

“I want to make things better,” Tennant said. “I want to affect change. The D.A.R.E. program the way the sheriff’s office can do that.”

Bob Terry of Steps Inside, which opened a sober living facility for men in Waynesburg two years ago and just recently opened a similar home for women, said the effort needs to continue for years to come.

“One gathering is not going to do it,” Terry said. “We need something sustainable.”

Christine Gardner, the court assistant for community prevention and education, noted that drug overdoses in Greene County nearly doubled in 2015 over the previous year – from nine to 14 – and the county now ranks in the top 5 in the state for overdoses per population level. She applauded the non-profit coalition and its work to secure private money for events.

“This is historical,” Gardner said. “This is big for Greene County because we are losing an entire generation.”

Johnson agreed and admitted that measuring success is difficult. A clinical social worker by trade, Johnson said most coalitions need to be operating for three years before seeing progress, and even then must continue working to sustain it.

“It won’t be rectified in a short amount of time,” he said.

New ideas to initiate over the next year include a diversionary program for juveniles, a community mediation training for re-entry and a new school Life Skills Training curriculum.

The group will also hold a treatment/health care subcommittee meeting in September and then return to the courthouse for another town hall meeting Oct. 6 where they will garner more community feedback.

“The epidemic with opioid abuse is no longer someone else’s problem,” Johnson said. “It’s our problem.”

From Observer-Reporter

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