Editor’s note: The rise in deaths from heroin overdose in North Alabama has become a major topic of late, with the U.S. Attorney’s office in particular sounding the alarm and gathering forces from law and the community to take on the problem. The local National Public Radio affiliate, WBHM, 90.3 FM, has jumped into the discussion with their periodic community forum “Issues & Ales.”
The forum was scheduled to include U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance; Jefferson County Health Officer Dr. Mark Wilson; Renee N. Smith, prevention coordinator for Addiction Prevention Coalition; Foster Cook, an associate professor and director of UAB Substance Abuse Programs and Jefferson County Community Corrections Program (TASC); Dr. Karen Cropsey, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at UAB; Beth Bachelor, chief executive officer of Fellowship House Recovery Services; and Brent Bonham, recovering heroin addict and mentor.
“Issues & Ales: Heroin in Alabama,” which took place from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at WorkPlay, 500 23rd St. South, Birmingham, was only part of WBHM’s look at the issue. The station is airing a series of stories this week delving into how heroin is affecting the lives of people in this area. Before the Issues and Ales forum, Weld asked WBHM News Director Rachel Osier Lindley to talk about why the station has turned its attention to heroin.
Weld: Why is WBHM focusing on heroin-related issues for “Issues & Ales”?
Rachel Osier Lindley: With the rise of heroin abuse and overdose deaths, we felt it was our responsibility to create a space where people could come together and talk about the problem. There’s still so much stigma around being an addict or having someone in your family who is one. It can be isolating, especially when people are trying to recover or help a family member through recovery. We hope that we’re able to connect people and break down some of those barriers.
Weld: How does this edition fit into the overall plans you have for “Issues & Ales”?
R.O.L.: As for “Issues and Ales,” a few times a year, WBHM wants to take an issue that’s affecting the community and bring people together around it. We want to be conveners of conversations that can, ultimately, have positive effects on community life and public policy.
Weld: What will the format be?
R.O.L.: It’s a panel discussion, two panels, about 45 minutes each. Each panel will be half moderated discussion and half questions from the audience.
Weld: What do you hope to accomplish?
R.O.L.: We hope it’ll raise awareness about the problem, and connect people who might not otherwise meet.
Weld: Some have questioned the fact that you’re building your event about heroin around a different addictive substance – alcohol.
R.O.L.: It’s something we put a lot of thought into. I think what we posted on our Facebook events page says it best: “We at the station had the same concern and did have this discussion when planning the event. We came to several conclusions. The event has been called “Issues & Ales” since it’s inception, but there are ALWAYS non-alcoholic options available for those who do not drink for whatever the reason. We also discussed this delicate matter with several recovering addicts who indicated that they had no problem with the venue or presence of alcohol since the issue is heroin and not alcohol. And finally, for those who feel they cannot attend the event for whatever reason, the event will, as always, stream live at wbhm.org.
Weld: I understand that WBHM is also doing a series of stories about heroin. What can listeners expect to hear?
R.O.L.: Our series airs during Morning Edition and All Things Considered all this week. We talked to recovering addicts, treatment and recovery professionals, law enforcement, students, judges, teachers and parents and present a wide variety of voices. This issues touches almost everyone.
For more information, including links to the heroin series, visit wbhm.org.