Saving people from the opioid crisis in Walker County

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WALKER COUNTY, Ala (WIAT) — The Walker County Sheriff’s Office is taking the opioid crisis in their own hands and instead of arresting people, they’re helping.

Walker County was ranked the worst county in the state of Alabama for drug overdose deaths according to Sheriff Nick Smith. That’s why they started the Mercy Project to hopefully bring those numbers down and life people out of the darkness.

One of the people who graduated from the Mercy Project, Derrick Harden, said his life is forever changed.

“I feel like a real person now instead of a piece of furniture in a trapped house,” said Harden.

Drugs used to be Harden’s life.

“At 21, I was hooked on pain pills. That was a good 10-year battle of itself on and off. The problem with pain meds is it takes a hold of you and it’s not something that is noticed by people,” said Harden.

That changed when Derrick walked into the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and enrolled in the Mercy Project.

“The things we implemented–some of the churches and outreach programs that we have all across Walker County that maybe we didn’t have 5-10 years ago,” said Sheriff Nick Smith. “If we stay on the track we’re now for this year, we’ll finish this year with a 39% reduction in crime which is huge so that means we’re making some headway.”

New Life Fellowship in Winfield is one of those outreach programs.

Four months ago, CBS 42 met Amanda Cole there, who was still in the program. Now, she is a Mercy Project graduate and nine months sober.

“I think everything about me has changed, like my outlook on life, my attitude towards others,” said Amanda Cole.

The real world recently put her to the test after running into an old drug buddy.

“We were talking about me having to work and I told them that I was tired. Well she pulls out a loaded bowl and sits it in my hand and I was like, I don’t need this anymore,” said Cole.

Amanda and Derrick have something they look forward to. For Amanda, it’s her kids.

“I want them to see the light in the darkness. I want to be that light for them, said Cole.

For Derrick, it’s for his soon-to-be-wife and his daughter.

“I plan now. I do things the way they’re supposed to. Life is building a life. It’s cool,” said Harden. “I have a daughter now. It’s all worth it when she says I love you, daddy.”

Sheriff Nick Smith said these moments are what mercy truly means.

“That’s something I take to heart because I have children that have to grow up in this county and I want the best Walker County not only for them but everyone’s children,” said Sheriff Smith. “I think the thing we have implemented, I may not see it, a lot of people may not see it but my children and their children will see the impact that we’re making today.”

“There’s hope. Don’t give up,” said Cole.

This year, The Walker County Sheriff’s Office reports that the Mercy Project has helped around 50 people get their life back and disconnect from drugs.


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