By Sam Prickett
Last year, four Over the Mountain mayors banded together to combat the opioid epidemic in their communities through a series of anti-addiction breakfasts.
During the past 18 months, Mountain Brook Mayor Stewart Welch, Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer, Hoover Mayor Frank Brocato and Vestavia Hills Mayor Ashley Curry have taken turns hosting quarterly Freedom from Addiction Coalition community breakfasts. The free events have focused on providing resources and information for those who have been affected by the opioid crisis.
The next breakfast, which takes place Sept. 20 at Mountain Brook’s Canterbury United Methodist Church, is the sixth such breakfast – and for this one, Welch said, the programming will widen its focus to include what he calls “the newest pathway to drug addiction,” vaping.
The practice of vaping is similar to that of smoking cigarettes, though it uses a handheld, battery-powered device to heat and evaporate cartridges of liquid solution instead of burning tobacco. The cartridges often contain nicotine and flavoring additives.
It’s a fairly new technology, though it has proven very successful in recent years. For instance, JUUL, a popular vaping brand, has forecasted revenue of $3.4 billion for 2019, according to Bloomberg.
But many details about the health risks of vaping remain largely unknown, Welch said. In fact, the first death from vaping was confirmed in Illinois last week, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a nationwide outbreak of lung disease that doctors believe is related to vaping.
Meanwhile, statistics show that the trend is extremely popular among high schoolers. That, Welch said, is the reason it was important to focus on vaping with this month’s FFAC breakfast.
“This one in particular is a departure,” Welch said. “(Previous breakfasts) have been more focused on drug addiction and opioids, but this one is different in that vaping, as far as I can tell, is still running pretty far under the radar.”
Welch said that the breakfast’s programming will largely be directed toward parents who are curious – or simply unaware – of what vaping is and what effects it might have on their children.
“A lot of parents are curious,” he said. “If you say ‘vaping’ to a parent, they all know what it is, but they’re curious if it could be harmful … . I think it is very dangerous. If I had a child that was vaping, that would be a serious red flag for me.”
Welch points to research that says vaping could lead adolescents toward addiction to cigarettes and other drugs.
“I think parents are so busy now, there’s just so much going on, that it is easy to overlook vaping as a cute phase or something that’s not harmful, when in fact it could be the thing for their child that leads them down the path to drug addiction,” he said. “If they start vaping, there’s a very high probability they’re going to graduate to something worse.”
Narcan is on the Program, Too
During the breakfast, attendees also will have the opportunity to learn how to use Narcan, a drug that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
The breakfast also will allow the FFAC to perform some self-assessment to determine whether the anti-addiction breakfasts will continue in their current form. That will be a topic, Welch said, for the four Over the Mountain mayors’ upcoming informal lunch meeting, which they hold once a quarter.
“I think that after this one, we’ll see how the attendance is, and we will evaluate whether to keep going with this format,” Welch said. “We’ve done a year-and-a-half of (these breakfasts), and I think that’s enough time to step back, take a pause, and say, ‘How’s this working? Do we think we’re having a positive impact, and do we want to continue doing it in the way we’re doing it, or do we want to try something different? Maybe we should do it in the afternoon, or in a different format.’”
Regardless, Welch said the mayors are dedicated to addressing issues of addiction in their respective communities.
“This is the worst problem, in my opinion, facing America,” he said. “It’s the single worst crisis in the country.”
“We’ve each got a unique perspective on this,” Welch said. “Ashley is ex-FBI, so during his career he was trying to track down the people who were pushing the drugs. Brocato, a former member of the Hoover Fire Department, he was the guy dispensing Narcan and bringing people back to life. Then you have me, a financial adviser, who has seen families spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to get a kid clean … . And then Scott McBrayer is head of Ridout’s Funeral Home. He puts them in the ground. So we all have a perspective on this. It means something to all of us, so we’ve decided to work together to try to make a difference.”
The next FFAC breakfast will be Sept. 20 at Canterbury United Methodist Church in Mountain Brook. Breakfast will be served from 7:30 to 8 a.m. The program, “Vaping: The Newest Pathway to Drug Addiction,” which includes guest speaker Dr. Susan Walley, begins at 8 a.m.