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Hattiesburg community battles drug epidemic

Hattiesburg+community+battles+drug+epidemic
Sean Smith

Since the start of 2023, there have been 2,278 arrests for drug-related charges in the state of Mississippi. In Forrest Co., there have been 168 arrests for drug-related charges. 22% of these drug-related crimes have been possession of a Schedule I drug that is less than one ounce, which can be either marijuana, ecstasy, heroin or LSD.

Many of these charges are only misdemeanors, but a problem still stands—the drug epidemic is alive and well here in Hattiesburg.

According to Capt. Will Peterson of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, methamphetamine is the most popular drug among drug users in the state, with marijuana as a close second.

“Drug users and abusers have individual preferences into the drug or drugs of choice, which range from common illicit drugs, including cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin, to other substances, such as pharmaceutical medications,” Peterson said.

Opioids, like OxyContin, Vicodin, morphine and fentanyl, are narcotics that are prescribed by doctors to treat severe pain. Although in recent years, they have not been used to treat pain, but rather individuals with substance use disorders.

What follows these issues are unfortunate overdoses, which have been increasingly evident in Hattiesburg since 2020. MBN reported 19 overdose deaths in 2020, 24 in 2021, 25 in 2022 and 8 in 2023. Numbers are decreasing, which MBN also attributes to Narcan, an over-the-counter nasal spray used to aid in stopping opioid overdoses. USM became the first university in Mississippi to place Narcan in residence halls.

USM’s Shatterproof Student Association is helping to educate the community and raise awareness for substance use disorders. Sophie Denton, head of SSA, is well aware of the concerning statistics surrounding the drug epidemic and is using the organization to help.

“A major way the Shatterproof Student Association works to combat the stigma around addiction is by educating the public,” Denton said. “We want our community to be able to understand the disease of addiction and recognize that addiction is treatable.”

SSA has many ways of educating the public, but specifically utilizes the resources offered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. SAMHSA offers grief training, information on drug addiction rehabilitation and financing. For people in dire mental health crises, the administration encourages them to call 988 for emergency mental health services. SAMHSA also offers a National Helpline for treatment information, prevention and recovery. This number can be dialed at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

SSA also wants to erase the stigma surrounding the drug epidemic, starting by erasing harmful terms like “junkie” or “drug abuser.” The group also encourages harm reduction strategies, which are strategies that provide fentanyl testing strips and education on how to administer Narcan to an individual in need.

In Hattiesburg, there are many resources available for the community to learn how to administer Narcan, or even seek rehabilitation services. According to SSA, you can learn how to administer Narcan at Moore’s Bike Shop on Hardy Street, or at Moffitt Health Center located at USM. For rehabilitation services, Pine Grove Behavioral Health & Addiction Services is an available resource located on 2255 Broadway Drive in Hattiesburg.

There is no doubt that Hattiesburg, and the United States, is very deep into this drug epidemic. But it is incredibly important to continue to raise awareness and fight the stigma. Remain vigilant and educated so this crisis can come to an end.

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