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Substance abuse program held at ECU

Thursday, August 27, 2009   (0 Comments)
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Substance abuse program held at ECU

By Justin Lofton
Staff Writer

A substance abuse program at East Central University’s Estep center packed the house Tuesday morning. Several people were turned away at the door to keep from violating the fire code maximum occupancy and the guest speaker, Reggie Whitten, said he would return to present the program to those who did not get to attend.

“I’m going to try to convince you that, of all the problems we have in this country, substance abuse and addiction is the number one problem,” Whitten said. “There’s not even a close number two.”

Whitten first delved into a personal story involving his son, who began to abuse alcohol and pills. On track to what could possibly be a successful football career, Whitten said his son began drinking, taking pills and getting in the hot tub after practices. One night, the habit proved fatal when, while inebriated, he lost control of his motorcycle and crashed into a brick mailbox.

Whitten said he struggled to understand why his seemingly successful son would intentionally do things that he knew were harmful.

“I didn’t know he had a disease,” Whitten said. “I didn’t know that the chemistry of his brain had changed.”

Following Whitten’s lecture and a short break, a panel answered questions from the audience. In the panel were District Judge Tom Landrith, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, Channel 9’s Scott Mitchell, Senator Harry Coates of Seminole and Jessica Hopkins of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health. Several on the panel expressed an interest in utilizing more funding for substance abuse prevention and intervention methods, like drug court, rather than relying so heavily on the prison system.

“We waste so much money through the department of corrections, it just makes you sick,” Landrith said.

Citing a higher success rate and lower cost to tax-payers in programs like drug court, many appealed for a change in the government’s approach to substance abusers.

“We’ve got to change the mind-set in this state,” Prater said. “Incarceration and being tough on crime is what gets you reelected in the legislature. Instead, we need to be smart on crime.”

Several members of the community have expressed an interest in curbing Oklahoma’s substance abuse tendencies and the panel of community leaders from all over the state made it clear that they were passionate about the subject, as well.

“A lot of the passion is coming from this table,” ECU President John Hargrave said, gesturing to the panel. “I want everybody to know all of these people spent their own money to come today.”

Reggie Whitten speaks about substance abuse at
East Central University Tuesday.
(Photo by Justin Lofton/Ada Evening News)

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