By Nida Merchant

Opioid Crisis Symposium 1
Tori Holcombe, a LIFELINE Lead Recovery Coach for Navigate Recovery Gwinnett, told the audience about her personal struggle with substance abuse and how she managed to get clean and stay that way. Photo courtesy City of Sugar Hill

Our job as the Sugar Hill Youth Council is to represent the younger generation in the city and local government. Since we pride ourselves on being the voice of the youth, we take it upon ourselves to address any issue that may arise among us.

In January, the Youth Council was able to attend Mayors’ Day in Atlanta where city politicians and council members are able to come together and discuss issues affecting Georgia. A problem we heard consistently throughout the event and have noticed ourselves in our local schools, is the rising drug epidemic spreading into the Atlanta metro area.

We realized that the drug and opioid problem is not just a national or state problem but an issue that affects residents in Gwinnett County.

After realizing this alarming trend plaguing our area, the Youth Council decided to host an Opioid Crisis Symposium. During the process of creating the event, our main priority was to invite a diverse panel of speakers and members who would be able to truly comprehend and act on the information accordingly.

The Council hosted both a state and local panel. State panel members included Georgia State Senator Renee Unterman, Susan Barge from Navigate Recovery, and Lurisa Barthen from the Georgia Substance Abuse Council. Local panelists were Sgt. Kristy Llewellyn from the Gwinnett County Police Department’s North Precinct, and Gwinnett County Superior Court Judge Kathryn Schrader.

Members were rattled to hear how pervasive this issue has become in our community. Judge Schrader stated, “We are losing more people to substance abuse than we are to people serving in combat abroad.”

One of the main reasons we decided to host this panel discussion was addressed in a question asked by an audience member when he asked about the stigmatization around the issue and what people can do to prevent it.

Susan Barge from Navigate Recovery answered the question with a very logical train of thought: “Stigmatization is the thing this issue thrives from. If people are not ready to discuss this issue, how can we expect a solution and funding from the government? Keep talking and keep informing.”

Sgt. Llewellyn explained the process of drugs infiltrating wealthy communities. With a school district as large and successful as Gwinnett County, citizens have “disposable money” that they are able to spend. As a result, narcotics and opiates find a way to trickle into our society without leaving a visible pattern. We have become part of what is known as the “Golden Triangle” in which drugs have become a tragic part of our lives with no visible pathway of stopping.

But vision is exactly what our community needs to cast light upon this issue. Recovery and awareness programs such as the Gwinnett United in Drug Education, Inc (GUIDE) has put forth their initiative in combating this issue and requires the support from our community to continue their strides.

Our community is under attack and it is affecting our younger generations. Without our communal support, Gwinnett County will not be able to rise from this atrocity.

For more information on the Sugar Hill Youth Council or the Opioid Crisis Symposium, visit

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