Cahaba Cares hosts substance abuse forum

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

Stephan Mambazo was born a heroin addict and an alcoholic.

He spent years “white knuckling” his addiction, attempting to kick the habit on his own. However, a life of abandon, neglect and abuse hindered a full recovery.

Email newsletter signup

“My family was not a family,” said Mambazo, now a substance abuse counselor for Cahaba Cares, a branch of Selma’s Cahaba Center.

Mambazo’s addiction ultimately led to a string drug charges in his native Philadelphia, Pa., a six-year state prison sentence in Florida and finally, self-acknowledgement of his disease.

Now “eight years clean,” Mambazo shared his triumphant story during a substance abuse public forum at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library Monday. Mambazo was one of eight panelists to speak on the dangers of drugs and alcohol throughout Dallas County and the Black Belt region.

“I’m very grateful I have the opportunity to give back to the community,” Mambazo said. “But the disease is real. It’s very real.”

Other panelists joining Mambazo included a recovering drug addict who wished to remain anonymous, Corey Bowie, Wallace Community College Selma (WCCS) retention counselor; Sandra Bivins Tutt, Cahaba Mental Health juvenile court liaison; Meldina Morgan, Department of Human Resources (DHR) public assistance supervisor; Arfletia McQuire, DHR family services worker; Bernita McDowell, Cahaba Mental Health adolescent substance abuse therapist; Lynda Lowery, Cahaba Mental Health; and Detective Tom Barnhill, Selma Police Department Narcotics Division. Randy Williams served as the event’s moderator.

Each panelist reiterated substance abuse is not new to Selma and several organizations are working daily to kick the habit.

“We do have families that abuse drugs and children that are born with drug addictions,” said McQuire.

While local organizations are doing what they can to supply addicts with “the best possible future they can have,” Mambazo said the disease cannot be cured by treatment professionals alone.

“We can do out part, but the community can do their part,” he said.

Several panelists said the stigma attached to substance abuse incites many to turn the other cheek and emphasized addiction affects every man, woman and child. The mention of Cahaba Mental Health as a treatment facility often makes substance abusers and their families shy away from seeking help.

“There’s a stigmatism of mental health,” said Tutt, who serves as a juvenile court liaison for Dallas, Perry and Wilcox counties. “That does not mean you’re crazy. There is a service you can access and you don’t access it.”

Bowie, who partners with Cahaba Center to host workshops for at risk youth, added many often discriminate against substance abusers, young and old, who are often in need of support. At WCCS, Bowie invokes a method he calls the “Teddy Bear Effect,” and “welcomes them with open arms.”

Mambazo stressed substance abuse is not a moral problem, but a combination of various factors that greatly affect a single person, making them capable of “doing anything, at any time, to anyone.” For example, Mambazo said substance abuse behavior oftentimes lead to unsafe sexual practices and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

“This ain’t New York or Philadelphia, but guess what? AIDS is alive and well in Dallas County,” he said.

Although September is National Alcohol and Drug Recovery Month, Cahaba Cares has plans to host forums on substance abuse throughout the year, said prevention coordinator Ed Johnston.

For more information about Cahaba Cares, call (334) 874-2600.