The United States is in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history. About 68,000 people died of overdoses last year, according to government statistics. The previous year more than 70,000 people died. As I reflect on the impact on our Upshur County Schools, I see a lesson learned from my father, Dr. Harold D. Almond, MD. Back in the 1950s, our problem addiction was mainly alcohol. Dad puzzled over how to deal with the health risk and alcohol abuse potential in Upshur County. At that time, we were a “dry county.” There was a West Virginia liquor store beyond Ellamore across the Middle Fork River in Randolph County, as well as one in Weston, Lewis County.
Doc Almond knew the ravages of alcohol on families. He described it as a downward spiral or whirlpool that we identified as we hiked down the railroad track from Ten Mile to see the great falls on the Buckhannon River. That fall afternoon in my youth, he introduced me to the author C.S. Lewis, who warned of this downward spiral in The Screwtape Letters, his imaginative look at a demon’s explanation of the art of temptation. Start with some pleasure, if possible one of God’s good pleasures—and offer it in a way God has forbidden. Once the person bites, give less of it while enticing him to want more. Provide “an ever-increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure,” until finally we “get the man’s soul and give him nothing in return.” Dad spoke of “Demon Rum” though he did not often speak of demons or devils. He also mostly was concerned about beer or moonshine, not necessarily rum. But he heartily agreed with C.S. Lewis on the entrapment of addiction.
Now I see our adolescents from a young age are being introduced to very powerful drugs that ravage young lives very quickly. About two-thirds of U.S. overdose deaths involve some kind of opioid, a class of drugs that includes heroin, certain prescription painkillers and illicit fentanyl. Fentanyl is so powerful emergency care providers can be harmed just handling the substance that may be on clothing.
How pleased I am to know Upshur County Sheriff David H. Coffman and his able team of deputies will be teaching the revived DARE program beginning this school year. The 10-week classroom experience offered not only in our seven elementary schools but also our Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School and High School may save some young lives.
In addition, B-U High School has introduced a new position to improve counseling. Dr. Tammy Samples, Upshur County BOE president, said the posting in question—Dean of Students at Buckhannon-Upshur High School—is designed to help with counseling responsibilities at the high school. “Currently, some of the responsibilities of the high school counselors are administrative type duties—scheduling, transcript analysis and virtual school,” Samples said. “Sometimes, this limits the amount of actual counseling they can perform. The notion for the Dean of Students is to shift some of those administrative tasks to one person in order to free the other counselors to deal with mental health needs of our student body.”
Our new Dean of Students at Buckhannon-Upshur High School is Mrs. Shauna Jones. Jones grew up in Kanawha County, WV. She earned a BA in Psychology from West Virginia Wesleyan College; an MA in School Counseling from West Virginia University, and an MFA in Creative Writing from WVWC. She worked for the West Virginia Department of Education for 15 years in Institutional Education, then for nine years at Wesleyan before her new position with Upshur County Schools.
While Upshur County remains in the center of a downward spiral, the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in our country’s history, I have HOPE! We have more boots on the ground! We are all in this together. For the sake of the children we will overcome.