For almost 30 years, Bill Geha has helped those with drug addictions fight the fight. Now he’s bringing his message to Wauseon, and it’s simultaneously grim and hopeful.
A certified drug counselor and prevention specialist, Geha will speak Thursday, Sept. 13, from 7-8:15 p.m., at Strength in Numbers, a regular support group for those affected by addiction held in the basement meeting room at St. Caspar Catholic Church, 1205 N. Shoop Ave.
His presentation will be about recovery, the adults and youth he’s worked with in recovery, and the importance of having a plan. “This isn’t just a one-shot deal. Recovery is the rest of your life,” he said.
Employed by the Sylvania and Springfield school systems, Geha, 72, has been admitted into the International Association of Top Professionals. He also was selected within that group for the Lifetime Achievement Award and as its 2018 Top Drug Counselor of the Year.
He is co-director of America’s Pride Drug Prevention Team in Toledo, and director of the P.E.A.C.E. Project. He has developed anti-bullying programs, worked with the World Drug Conference, and has a board position with the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Northwest Ohio. He also conducts a workshop, Project Hope, for struggling junior high school students.
The Sylvania resident tells those he counsels that he’s never been in their shoes but works with people who have. He advises those he mentors to be drug-free and a person of respect.
“We have to look at defining moments in our lives, because for all of us there have been moments that have touched all of us and motivated us and helped us become who we are,” Geha said. “We have people in recovery look at the people in their lives that depend on them.”
Over the decades he has watched illicit drugs cycle in popularity, from marijuana to cocaine to prescription pills, heroin and fentanyl, and back again. “And the suppliers are relentless,” Geha said. “It’s all about the money. (And) it’s a suburban problem, because that’s where the money is.”
And with the prospect of legalization of marijuana spreading over more states, “People have no idea what they’re getting into,” he said.
Some addicts use for recreational purposes, others self-medicate to lessen the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Most often, the parents of youth using drugs remain ignorant.
“So many parents say, ‘Not my kid.’ Kids are pretty slick. I’ve seen kids use various stuff and the parents have no clue, because the kids wear good masks,” Geha said.
He rues the fact that not enough public services are available for addicts, and that treatments aren’t long enough.
“Kids go into treatment for 30 or 40 days. We need longer programs. It depends on the individual,” he said. “Some are struggling with mental health issues, and for them it’s going to have to be ongoing. The problem is, there’s no one answer. There are so many reasons for drug abuse.”
And one of those reasons may be the influence youth are receiving at home, Geha said.
“If I went into a classroom of 100 kids and said, ‘Stand up if you think your parents are drinking too much or doing this or that,’ people would be surprised,” he said.
And while he believes illicit drug use has always been an epidemic, he sees it escalating. “I still meet with people I met as students. It’s frustrating. I’ll be the first to tell you, I still learn every single day,” he said.
Geha’s interest in drug counseling was motivated by the death of a student in 1989 from a drug overdose. He started a program called America’s Pride Drug Intervention Team with a fellow high school staff member, Dr. Ken Newberry. As they traveled the U.S., presenting anti-drug workshops, the program evolved into P.E.A.C.E., which more specifically mentored youth.
“We went from coast to coast, doing musical productions and workshops. We kept getting more invitations,” he said.
Along the way, Geha worked on anti-drug campaigns with Nancy Reagan and former Ohio Governor Bob Taft and his wife, Hope. He also collaborated with the U.S. and Canadian governments, working with Native Americans, and with the British government on drug prevention.
Lori Knierim of Strength in Numbers, whose son Matthew succumbed to drugs, invited Geha to speak to the group after befriending him on social media.
“I followed his post on Facebook. He’s constantly uplifting people. He just sounded like such a neat person,” she said. “He always has a positive message, and I just really like it.”
Though he’s reached retirement age, Geha plans to continue his fight against drug abuse and mentoring addicts. He said there is still a lot of work to do, and he doesn’t plan to quit.
“Two years ago, I went to four funerals,” he said. “That’s a tough deal.”
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.