Ohio Law Enforcement, Faith Groups And Community Leaders Gather To Discuss Opioid Epidemic
More people died in Ohio from an opioid overdose than any other state in the country in 2014, according to the latest national numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Law enforcement, faith groups and other community leaders are trying to change that. As Statehouse correspondent Andy Chow reports, they’re hoping that sharing as many ideas as possible can be a first step in overcoming the epidemic.
“I’ll tell you there’s gonna be a lot of buzzing going on,” says Darryl Brake, executive director of the Summit County Community Partnership. He’ joined hundreds of other community leaders from around the state to talk about the opioid crisis.
The second annual statewide drug summit was created to provide a space for people to unite and share ideas on how to fight the epidemic.
“People learning what works well. In Summit County we wanna hear about what everyone’s doing.”
Keeping it local
Brake wasn’t just here to learn from others but to share what’s working in his community. The latest endeavor is a drug-disposal program. The program hands out pouches among nursing homes, hospitals and pharmacies. A person can put unused medications inside, fill it up with water and the drugs are neutralized.
“It reduces access to the drugs by taking them out of medicine cabinets and off the streets and it’s harm reduction for those families that have someone that has an opiate or heroin problem.”
Last year, 280 people died of drug overdoses in Summit County. The medical examiner’s office says opiates played a role in a third of those cases.
The Ohio Department of Health says more than 3,000 Ohioans overdosed in 2015, and 37 percent of those deaths involved the the synthetic known as fentanyl. Lawmakers have passed several bills on opioid abuse prevention, rules on prescribing painkillers and expanded access to the drug overdose antidote Naloxone.
Medicaid plays a role
Gov. John Kasich says the expansion of Medicaid he pushed for has helped in the fight. But state leaders keep saying the war against the opiate epidemic has to be fought mostly at the local level.
That’s why Attorney General Mike DeWine said his “Ideas in Motion” conference was so important.
“You’ll see that they were all kind of grassroots, made up at the local level. So we want people to leave here with additional ideas. If they come up with one idea that people can actually implement in their community that makes a difference, then certainly the trip here has been worth it for them.”
Police as mentors to addicts
Among efforts highlighted at the conference were those in which members of law enforcement visit drug-overdose patients at the hospital and become mentors, groups that hand out flyers on recognizing signs of drug abuse to local restaurants and other businesses, and seminars in which police officers teach parents what to look for in a child’s room.
“People should not lose faith, they should not lose heart. They can make a difference in their community. Are we gonna save everybody? No. But can we save some people? Yes we can and they’re being saved every day and we just want more communities to be engaged and do that.”
At Fellowship Baptist Church in Columbus, Tony Liuzzo is heeding that call to be engaged. Liuzzo is the lead pastor for the church, which hosted the conference. He says his community is no stranger to the drug epidemic and that places of worship can provide a vital role.
“We have a number of people who have been attending; they’re going through recovery but they’re looking people who are going to hold them accountable, encourage them, get behind them and then also help them fill the void of what led them to this to begin with.”
The key, according to Liuzzo, is for faith leaders and others to tackle the problem directly rather than pretending a problem doesn’t exist.
“If you’re going to truly help people you’ve got to confront the real issue. Putting up the façade that everything’s OK is not going to help people who struggle with this. And if we don’t become vocal with it and address it from the pulpit, people aren’t going to know that we care or that there are others who struggle.”
Darryl Brake of Summit County agreed. He added that community leaders must stay engaged and continue to keep their eyes open to any new trends in drug use so they can stop it before it becomes the next epidemic.