And you can make a difference too.
Even against seemingly overwhelming odds.
Take it from someone who knows, David “Alligator Jackson” Williams.
His “Alligator Jackson Inside Huntington WV” Facebook page has thousands of likes and followers.
He’s also written two popular books, The Boiling Point and Money Town, which are fictional accounts focusing on the local impact of a drug culture.
Simply put: People read what he writes.
And his online posts spark discussion, lots of give and take.
Many praise his efforts to empower folks at the grassroots level.
Fans like his determination to attack the city’s opioid epidemic head on.
“We are at the point that many of us automatically wonder if there’s been an overdose when we hear sirens or see the police lights on. It just really is that bad here,” he said.
It’s personal for him on many levels.
Last week’s shooting of a neighbor in his apartment building isn’t the first time violence has taken place there.
Drug dealers aren’t hard to find in some nearby local alleys, and that availability compounds the problem, he said.
Just walking his dog can be an education, so he is sympathetic to others’ experiences and fears.
He’s willing to listen, and post graphic information about what’s happening on city streets.
Often in unforgettable detail.
Jarring pictures, chilling words and prophetic predictions served a purpose, he said.
Especially in the beginning, shock value was his tool in trade.
It was a way to “make people really see the lives being lost to heroin,” he said.
Envision addicts literally dropping in the streets and fast-food restaurant bathrooms, as well as nodding of behind the wheel while driving.
Last year there were overdoses in the same retail parking lot three days in a row, he said.
“It does happen all the time on the street because these people are addicts, and want to do the drug as soon as they get it. They can’t wait long enough to get home.
They are sitting there shaking, and need a fix. If they buy it around the corner, they will hit an alley or wherever they think they won’t get caught,” he said.
Huntington received national attention last August when 28 people overdosed over a five-hour period after using heroin sold by a single drug dealer.
In 2017 the Mayor’s Office of Drug Control Policy introduced a two-year plan for addressing the opioid crisis in Huntington, Cabell and Wayne counties.
City officials estimate that more than 10 percent of the population are opioid addicts.
A total of 1,476 overdose incidents were reported in Cabell County in 2016, a 443 percent increase since 2014.
The county’s youngest overdose victim in 2016 was just 11 years old.
Desperate times call for drastic measures, according to Williams.
He’s even posted the occasional photo of a body bag being removed from a downtown crime scene.
“People think I’m just being an ass for posting pictures or even names. But I have the same fears that I do about coming home and finding someone dead. It can happen to any family, and this is my idea of a wake-up call,” he said.
Not everyone approves, and he understands those concerns.
Especially the feelings of families devastated by addiction and overdose deaths.
He knows from personal experience how addiction can make life hell.
“I can’t get away from it. I go to work, and I work with it. I come home and I have to worry about a family member. Then there are also the people I try to help online.
Even though I personally have never done a drug, I live with it 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.
Trying to make a difference, whether personally or professionally, isn’t easy.
“I know how it feels to struggle, and not know what to do when someone is an addict. There is a fine line between helping someone and enabling them,” he said.
Denial helps no one in the end, and “might be the worst form of enabling,” he said.
“If you don’t acknowledge a problem, you are saying it doesn’t exist. You are allowing it to do whatever it wants. We have all seen that denial doesn’t work.
So I guess I am really searching for something that does work.
The ultimate solution is getting drugs off the streets, but first people have to know how bad it is out there. That’s when they demand action, and are even willing to help make a difference,” he said.
Other people aren’t the only ones learning an important lesson.
“I no longer post all of the overdose names from 911, and I don’t post those same kind of pictures anymore unless it will send a different message.
At first I thought people needed to see addicts passed out in the streets so they could realize what was happening.
Now people have seen that and maybe even accepted it, we have to move forward. Staying the same isn’t going to work, but the temptation is to look past the problem. Not dealing with this is my biggest fear,” he said.
Even though last week was especially violent, Williams is hopeful community members will continue to unite for a better future.
There were five shootings, three dead and three wounded, all within four days and walking distance apart, the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper reported.
So far there have been 19 confirmed homicides, with two also being investigated as homicides, in 2017, and the majority are drug related, city officials say.
Dozens of people attended last Friday’s rally organized by local religious leaders after the deadly week.
After walking to the Huntington Police Department, “church leaders and city officials shared in prayers for Huntington,” according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail Newspaper.
That’s a very positive sign, Williams said.
“I do believe our police department is doing the best they can, especially since they are short staffed. And there are lots of people who want to see things change. So I plan to continue doing whatever I can to help keep moving things in that direction.”