SEARCY, Ark. — An investment to decrease drug activity appears to be paying off in White County. Friday, the Searcy Police Department released statistics showing overdose investigations and deaths in the city decreased by half over the last two years.

Searcy Police credits the change to its Community Outreach Awareness Project (COAP) created from a grant in 2019. One of the first things the project did was break the stigma of addiction by letting someone with decades of drug abuse experience take the reigns.

“At the end of my using, I could not function, I could not get off my couch. I feel like I died alive,” expressed Kelli McHughes, the current advanced peer support specialist with the Searcy Police Department.

In a bounce house, under the music, and biting into hotdogs, in Searcy Friday McHughes’s recovery story was one of the dozens shared.

She lost a family, a home, and freedom in a battle with addiction. but now, on the other side, she has regained them all, and she is helping others find their way out.

“What we’re trying to do here is let everyone recover out loud,” McHughes stated.

The first annual recovery picnic shouts the struggles people have been through, connects people with resources, and celebrates how long they have been sober.

Another example is Jeffrey Blakefare. His battle started at age 15, but in a few weeks, the 39-year-old will graduate from a recovery program and go to a 20-dollar-an-hour job.

Blakefare said in his darkest times in and out of jail, he would not have gotten even close to the police, but his outlook is changed now.

 “It allows you to shine your light man to other people. Maybe they’ll want what you’ve got,” Blakefare encouraged.

Searcy Police Department (SPD) Major Brian Wyatt opened the hours-long picnic by telling the crowd, “Everyone deserves a chance.”

SPD and its Community Outreach Awareness Project sponsored the picnic to celebrate the number of overdoses going down year after year in the community.

The stats tracked the number of overdose investigations and fatalities in Searcy since COAP was initiated in September 2020. They show from September to December 2020, there were 22 overdose investigations, 4 of which were fatalities.

In all of 2021, there were 35 overdose investigations, 8 of which were fatalities. But so far in 2022, there have been 5 overdose investigations, 2 of which were fatalities.

Major Wyatt believes that the tremendous decrease displayed between 2021 and 2022 is something to celebrate.

“I want other departments to see what we’re doing, challenge them to jump on board with this, become a part of this, and do the same thing in your community,” urged Wyatt.

Searcy Police stated so few agencies applied for the addiction recovery grant in 2019, that the agency got double the $100K for the two years they applied for. The department hopes after seeing this progress, other law enforcement teams around the state will become more interested in doing the same Searcy started.

“There’s no shame in being in addiction anymore. There are tons of resources to help everyone out,”  McHughes encouraged.