The drug epidemic: What can be done about it?

Messenger photo by Kristy Zurbrick
Chris Cook, Madison County health commissioner, shares local, state and national statistics about drug overdoses during the Madison County Conservation, a county-wide public forum on substance abuse held May 17 in London.

(Posted May 24, 2017)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

“We need to come together as a community and battle this epidemic.”

So said London Mayor Patrick Closser in opening remarks at the Madison County Community Conversation, a county-wide forum on substance abuse. Nearly 100 people attended the event, which took place May 17 at London High School.

Panelists who took part in the forum echoed Closser’s rallying cry, shared information, and offered ways that individuals and the community can help.

• Jim Sabin, Madison County Sheriff

As a rural county sandwiched between larger metropolitan areas (Columbus, Springfield, Dayton), Madison County makes for easy prey for outside drug traffickers, Sabin said.

“Also, on a daily basis, Madison County people go to the cities to get drugs and bring them back to Madison County,” he said.

To address these issues, a few years ago the Sheriff’s Office and London Police Department combined resources to cover more area. Last year, this drug task force spent $20,000 to buy drugs in undercover operations.

“But drug investigations are extremely difficult and especially in Madison County because… everyone knows each other,” Sabin said. That’s where the public can help. “We need your eyes. We need your ears. Obviously, we can’t be everywhere.”

How to help: If you witness or hear of suspicious activity, call the Sheriff’s Office at (740) 852-1212 or your local police department. Another option in London is to download the free MyPD App onto your smartphone; the app allows anyone to submit tips to the department, anonymously if they so choose.

• Eamon Costello, Madison County Common Pleas Court Judge

Of the cases Costello handles, 80 to 90 percent involve people who are addicted to opiates. In all of these cases, people charged with heroin use started by abusing prescription pills, he said.

“The mountain is huge once you become an opiate addict,” Costello said of the climb out of addiction.

In Madison County, court-appointed treatment yields at best a 17 percent success rate. Costello’s definition of success: two years of sobriety.

“Because it’s so hard to kick, we need to focus on prevention,” he said.

How to help: “Early intervention, in my opinion, is the best way of addressing this,” Costello said.

When presented with the idea of taking a pill versus using a needle, young people will likely shy away from the needle but be less daunted by the pill, Costello said.

“We need to educate young people to treat the pill with the same respect as the needle so they never get to the needle.”

• Dr. Lou Kramer, London City Schools Superintendent

In the school realm, Kramer said he doesn’t see many problems with direct drug use by students. What he does see are students who suffer from anxiety and other mental health issues related to drug abuse by family members or other people they know in the community.

In the past year, London City Schools hired a student support specialist to link students and families to resources for a wide variety of issues. They also added more counseling support.

“We need to equip kids with coping skills and help them learn how to make the right decisions on their own,” Kramer said.

How to help: The DARE program serves fifth-graders. Kramer proposes introducing children to drug prevention and problem-solving instruction at an even earlier age.

He also pointed to young adults ages 19-22 as particularly susceptible. He said this segment of the population needs help preparing for the transition to independence.

• Chris Cook, Madison County Health Commissioner

To put the substance abuse problem in perspective, Cook shared national, state and local statistics:

– Drug overdoses killed more people in the United States in 2015 than HIV/AIDS did at its peak in 1995.

– A recent report shows that Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths. The numbers: 3,050 deaths in 2015; 3,802 in 2016.

– Starting in 2012, unintentional overdose deaths involving heroin and fentanyl (either illicit or prescription) have risen sharply in Ohio.

– The estimated number of overdoses (not necessarily involving death) in Madison County has ranged from 59 in 2012 to 96 in 2016. So far in 2017, the estimate is 68.

– In Madison County, the estimated number of emergency room visits per week for drug overdoses was 0.9 in 2013. So far in 2017, it’s 4.3.

– The age category with the highest estimated percentage of overdoses in the county is 25 to 34 years old at 31 percent, followed by 35-49 at 25 percent, and 18-24 at 18 percent.

– Of the overdoses in the county, it is estimated that 45 percent occur in females and 55 percent in males.

How to help: Social service agencies can look for ways to band together, pooling resources and ideas and applying for grants and other funding to help with everything from prevention to recovery.

Speaking more generally, Cook also said, “We need something better for people to ‘run to.’ ”

• Greta Mayer, CEO of the Mental Health and Recovery Board

Mayer reviewed the basics of brain function and explained that addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease. It involves a combination of biology, environment and choices, she said, also noting that stigma attached to addiction creates barriers.

“People with addiction are deserving of the same treatment and dignity as those suffering from other medical diseases,” she said.

How to help: Mayer implored everyone to dig deeper: “We need to find out what’s underneath the addiction, why a person is led down this path.”

• Rev. Melvyn Huguely, St. Paul AME Church

Huguely pointed to the mantra that “it takes a village” to tackle something as big as the drug epidemic. To that end, he encouraged people of faith to take their personal devotions outside the walls of their homes and their churches, to serve as role models to children, and to set positive examples.

How to help: Huguely put it succinctly: “Say something. Do something.”

Kathy Brinkman, area resident in long-term recovery from addiction

Now sober for over five years, Brinkman brought to the table the perspective of someone who has known addiction personally. Her focus was recovery.

“The key to maintaining long-term recovery is capital,” she said.

People need physical capital, she explained—insurance, money, safe shelter, clothing, food, access to transportation. They need human capital—values, knowledge, job skills, self awareness, hope. Social capital—family support, social connections, leisure opportunities. And community capital—reduction of stigma, role models, and treatment resources.

How to help: Build capital. Brinkman pointed to the London Recovery Project as a relatively new resource that is helping people in the community meet a number of those needs. The group, organized by local people in long-term recovery, holds regular hours at the London Community Center.

Brinkman also noted that London soon will be home to a recovery house providing support for men on the road to recovery from addiction.

The Madison County Community Conversation also included a question and answer session. Topics raised included rehabilitation versus prosecution, medical marijuana’s potential impact on the drug epidemic, regulations on prescriptions, drug court, drug testing at schools, Narcan, resources for children of addicts, and how to intervene when someone isn’t open to help. The entire conversation, including the panelists’ presentations and the question-and-answer session, can be viewed via Facebook Live videos posted on the “Mayor Patrick J. Closser” and “London Ohio Government Services” Facebook pages.

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