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.
It’s a dilemma law enforcement, faith groups and other community leaders are all trying to get a grip on. They’re hoping sharing as many ideas as possible can be the first step in winning the fight against this epidemic.
“I’ll tell you there’s gonna be a lot of buzzing going on,” said Darryl Brake, executive director of the Summit County Community Partnership.
He’s joining 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 want to hear about what everyone’s doing,” Brake said.
Brake isn’t just here to learn from others but to share what’s working in his community. Their latest endeavor is a drug disposal program. They hand out pouches among nursing homes, hospitals and pharmacies. A person can put their pills 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 two it’s harm reduction for those families that have someone that has an opiate or heroin problem,” Brake said.
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.
And the problem is statewide. The Ohio Department of Health says more than 3,000 Ohioans overdosed in 2015, and 37 percent of those deaths involved the very dangerous drug fentanyl. Lawmakers have passed several bills on opioid abuse prevention, rules on prescribing painkillers and expanded access to the drug overdose antidote naloxone.
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.
And that’s why Attorney General Mike DeWine urges the importance of this “Ideas in Motion” conference, so community leaders don’t feel alone in the fight.
“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.”
Many ideas were floating around during the event. There are programs where members of law enforcement visit drug overdose patients at the hospital and become mentors; groups that create flyers describing the signs of drug abuse to hand out to restaurants and local businesses; and police officers who conduct seminars teaching parents of 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," DeWine said. "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 that 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 head on rather than pretending a problem doesn’t exist.
“Putting up the façade that everything’s ok is not going to help anybody people do 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’s others that struggle." Liuzzo said.
Brake of Summit County agrees. He adds that these 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.