More than 400 people are killed by drugs in central Ohio yearly – mostly by opioids. More than half are under age 40 – in the prime of their lives physically and only halfway through their careers.
As journalists in Columbus, Newark, Marion and elsewhere, we’re troubled that our aggressive coverage of the escalating death toll and costly side effects the last three years has not resulted in widespread public mobilization for solutions.
That’s an admission on our part: We care about our communities and the people who live in them. We believe that more than 1,000 killed just in the last few years in the Columbus metro area cries out for game-changing action.
There are indeed some individuals and organizations delivering creative interventions, but still, the problem continues.
What We're Doing
Now it’s our turn. Central Ohio journalists have agreed to set aside competitive instincts for the next several months and work together on helping the community identify and act on solutions. Among those journalists are JoAnne Viviano at the Columbus Dispatch, Sarah Volpenhein at the Marion Star, Adora Namigadde and Nick Evans at WOSU, and Ashley Bunton at the Washington Court House Record Herald.
We’re not the first. This is an organized statewide media effort called Your Voice Ohio. The first opioid intervention was in the Youngstown-Warren area and most recently in Southwest Ohio, where 1,000 die each year.
Radio, TV and newspapers are sharing resources and stories with this question in mind: What do the people in our communities need most from us to understand and address this crisis?
Nearly 40 Ohio news organizations are in the project, sharing data and stories. Our focus now is opioids. Later this year we’ll transition to Ohio’s overall future.
Over the next few months, we’ll hold public meetings in Columbus, Marion and Newark. We’ll join citizens at the table to listen and participate. We want to come away with new ideas on how best to serve.
What We're Looking For
There’s an element to this project that will be noticeably different from much of what you have heard or read so far: Solutions. We want to change the tone by showing that this is not a hopeless crisis. There are, in fact, people, institutions and governments that are saving lives.
During our coverage, we will provide a list of solutions that are statistically proven to make a positive change. Are the solutions at work in your community? If not, should they be? And who should act? To accompany that list will be examples of how some communities have acted.
And we’re learning from this, too. People in other communities told their news organizations that people struggling with addiction need help and they want respect. “No one wakes up in the morning thinking they want to be an addict” was heard more than once.
They asked for a phone number, prominent on news web sites, that tells them who to call for help. Where can they find Narcan kits to revive someone who overdosed? Where can they find a detoxification center? Is there a local needle exchange to prevent spread of disease?
The number to call for immediate help with substance issues in Franklin County is 614-276-CARE (2733).
The Project So Far
Most news organizations have stopped referring to victims as “addicts” unless the people describe themselves as such. The word “addiction” sometimes is replaced by “substance use disorder.”
Reasons? Scientific understanding of opioids suggests that the drug causes a change in brain chemistry that results in a disorder. The word “disorder” is more accurate, and also changes the thinking about the people at risk.
One of the Your Voice Ohio partners, WYSO Public Radio, aired a powerful interview from the Dayton Women’s Correctional Institution that illustrates how lives are transformed by opioids. Listen to the conversation with Alisha Federici, who suffered a back injury in high school gymnastics. She was given pain medication and became hooked. She tried rehab three times, but the disorder ended in her death.
The needs for action are many. In the Youngstown-Warren community meetings, one man with a child said he had been clean for nearly a year, but he cannot survive unless someone has enough faith to hire him so that he can support his family. What are the solutions?
At one table, three women struggled with guilt as they told of their sons secretly using heroin, then dying of overdoses. Where can they find help, and how can they become helpers?
In another meeting, some expressed disgust. This is a result of poor choices and at great public cost, they said. Their concern is the public cost.
How To Join Us
The public conversations sponsored by your local news organizations begin with the assumption that communities are best equipped to identify and act on effective solutions. People will be asked whether opioids have affected their lives and how. They’ll be asked how the area would look if it were successfully turning the crisis around and what must be done to do so.
Columbus area event:
- Sunday, April 22, 1-3 p.m.
- Makoy Center, 5462 Center Street, Hilliard.
- Register and comment on Facebook
- Register through Eventbrite
So now we ask: What questions do you need answered to help your understanding? What solutions do you suggest?
Next: Solutions that have worked in other communities and could be applied in your area.
The Your Voice Ohio media collaborative was funded in 2016 by a $175,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an organization that supports journalistic endeavors. That funding provided for unique polling for the media by the University of Akron Bliss Institute for Applied Politics and public deliberation sessions facilitated by the Jefferson Center, a non-profit, non-partisan engagement organization in St. Paul, Minn.