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Community conversation to bring light to realities of substance abuse

It is often said information is power. The Jasper County Substance Abuse Coalition is hoping to empower students, parents and community members through a Community Conversation on Substance Abuse at 7 p.m. Sept. 28 at the Newton High School.

The coalition is hosting the event to provide information and resources for parents and community members seeking to know more about the challenges faced within the county and steps that can be taken to protect kids and help those impacted by substance abuse. On hand to speak will be several local presenters as well as Officer Al Fear of the Cedar Rapids Police Department, who will talk about the opioid epidemic in Iowa.

Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess said the program will begin with the coalition explaining its efforts in Jasper County and then Hayley Nemmers of Employee and Family Resources will discuss statistics from the Iowa Youth Survey.

Following Nemmers, Lt. Aaron Groves of the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office will present a video segment of four community members testimonials and their journey with substance abuse.

“It is very impactful — folks who grew up here in Newton or Jasper County,” Burdess said. “Some of them had very nice upbringings and others didn’t. They are all currently substance abuse free and they will share their journey and how substance abuse affected their lives and the lives of everyone around them.”

The bulk of the conversation will be a presentation by Fear, a 23-year veteran in law enforcement who currently serves as the director the Eastern Iowa Heroin Initiative. Fear travels the state presenting at town hall meeting, conferences and training seminars in an effort to battle the current opioid epidemic. He also founded the community action team “CRUSH of IOWA” which stands for Community Resources United to Stop Heroin which now has more than 500 members and six country chapters across the state.

Fear’s prevention will give insight on the opioid epidemic, including national and local data, drug trends, concerns for first responders, narcane training and community solutions. While the county hasn’t seen epidemic level opioid use, Burdess said, it is moving from east to west and the area is working to stay ahead of the curve.

The conversation will end with the introduction of coalition members and resources and providers available in the community. Those providers will then be available at booths in the cafeteria area following the event for further questions.

“Parents or community members can go talk to the various groups there, and if they need further resources or have questions, they can get those right there without having to make an appointment with a counselor,” Burdess said.

Events for the conversation will kick off a day earlier on Sept. 27 with a similar presentation for the students at DMACC. Students at NHS will also take part in a paired down presentation created specifically for high school students during the final period of the day prior to the community conversation.

“The students will have an opportunity to receive some of the training and the goal would be to get parents and community members to come to the expanded version in the evening and get more in-depth information in terms of how to keep their kids from getting involved with drugs and if they are involved in some type of drugs or substance abuse, what can they do about it,” Burdess said.

The NCSD has been involved with the coalition since its start and superintendent Bob Callaghan said he is excited for the work it has already accomplished and where it is headed in the future.

“It could have such a positive impact on our community and that would have an equal impact on our students and their opportunities in the world of education and their future. We’re excited to work with Chief Burdess, the police department and all of the local agencies,” Callaghan said. “We have the opportunity to have a nationally known speaker on substance abuse come into our community and we were given the opportunity to allow our students to hear earlier in the day in a more intimate setting. The data seems to support that one of main ways in order to prevent heroin abuse or opioid abuse is through education received in high school.”

Burdess said they are going to try to “pack the house” to bring awareness to an issue facing many families and community members and welcomes everyone to become involved in the efforts.

Contact Jamee A. Pierson at 641-792-3121 ext. 6534 or

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