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Shelby County Drug Court and Ben Owen work to treat drug addiction in South Memphis

Advocates say South Memphis is one of the hardest-hit and often forgotten areas in the city when it comes to drug addiction.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — When many eyes were focused on the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 3 years, another crisis was brewing and hitting south Memphis hard.

Deaths from opioid and other drug addictions have gone up since 2020 and local organizations along with the Shelby County Drug Court are working to get more people the treatment they need.  

The Shelby County Drug Court along with Flanders Field and other organizations gave out care packages to those in south Memphis on Saturday.

"It's about building relationships and starting the alliances so that when somebody is ready to get help they know who to go to," Ben Owen, the founder of Flanders Field and We Fight Monsters, said.

Those packages included hygiene items and other utensils. The other goal was to give a helping hand and invite those in South Memphis who might be dealing with drug addiction to treatment.  

“If you can’t find the light in the dark, you might be the light, so shine brightly," Josh Snead said. "It’s given me purpose.”  

Snead has been sober for nearly 4 months — ever since he began his journey through the Shelby County Drug Court’s drug rehabilitation program.

“Instead of just sending them to jail, we try to put them into a rehabilitation program,” Drug Court Judge Lee Wilson said. “In that program, we have intensive outpatient, inpatient and long-term treatment.”

The program is 18 months (about 1 and a half years) and Judge Wilson says the goal is to stop the revolving door at 201 Poplar, particularly the cases dealing with individuals addicted to a substance.

“If no one’s helped them they just can go in do a little time in jail go right back to jail doing what they were doing,” Judge Wilson said. “[It’s] because [the] root cause has not been addressed, which is the addiction to these drugs out here.”  

Since the beginning of this year alone, Memphis Police Department's Heroin Overdose Response team has investigated over 120 non-fatal opioid-related overdoses and about 23 possible deaths.

Many of them due to fentanyl, and South Memphis is one of the hardest-hit areas in the city.

That's why Saturday Josh joined the Shelby County Drug Court and other organizations to share a message of hope and invite others in South Memphis who may suffer from drug addiction to sobriety.

“It was easier to supply my drug habit than it was to feed myself. That’s the world that we live in right now,” Snead said. “Don’t be scared. We understand. There are people out here walking those same roads — in your shoes.”  

Josh is four months into the Drug Court’s program Bryan Owens graduated from the program over a decade ago and said the program gave him a new life.  

“In the beginning, I only had hope that there’s a different future; now I have faith that there’s a different future,” Owens said. “Recovery is possible. It doesn’t matter how far down the road you are, everybody can recover and change.”  

Judge Wilson says on average 10 people per month start the program and only about 20% of those who complete the program re-offend. 

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