SULLIVAN, Ind. (WAWV/WTWO) – April 8th the first United Way of the Wabash Valley Substance Abuse and Recovery Panel took place in Sullivan County.

Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb as well as many other city and school officials gathered at Sweet P’s Agape Cafe to discuss the the current situation with substance abuse and recovery options.

According to the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office 337 individuals were arrested for substance related offenses in 2021. This averages to 1 person per day.

Many notable panelists shared their personal experiences with substance abuse in the county.

Long time resident, panel member, and owner of Sweet P’s Agape Cafe Christy Pearison said she’s seen addiction affect her family.

“It takes a significant toll on you and your family,” Pearison said.

Pearison said it’s important addicts have support in the recovery process.

“It’s worth it to see them succeed in the end,” Pearison said. “It’s worth it when they come out of rehab and they’re smiling and want to try again.”

Pearison opened up Sullivan’s Sweet P’s Agape Cafe a year ago to be a resource and support system for those struggling with addiction.

“We wanted to be a hub for the hurting,” Pearison said. “We feel that there is a need in the community to not only to give support to those that are struggling with addiction, but to those family members who just need a safe space to come and talk.” 

According to a 2021 Sullivan County Survey, many community members feel there are a lack of resources. 84 percent of people believe the county lacks resources to help people with substance use disorders.

Panel Member Lacey Bond said this is why most addicts are in and out of jail.

“This isn’t just an addiction, it is a mental health problem,” Bond said. “This is something they need help with.”

Bond said as an addict in recovery, jail shouldn’t be the immediate and only option.

“Throwing them in jail and making them pay fines, makes many addicts lose hope,” Bond said. “It’s hard to move forward from that.”

Panel members agreed that further education for law-enforcement and schools on how to handle addiction properly, would be a step in the right direction.

United Way Marking and Communications Director Abby Desboro said United Way plans to hold more panels in the future.

“I think if you are ever going to attack a big problem in our community like substance use, you need to understand the problem from the grassroots,” Desboro said.