One of the most influential men in the world was in Dayton this weekend to talk to local people about opioid addiction, an issue devastating many area families.
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who is touring the Midwest, stopped in Dayton on Saturday, for a community roundtable hosted by CareSource.
Lori Erion, founding director of FOA Families of Addicts, said she was asked to sit on the 10-person roundtable with the billionaire. She said the roundtable participants didn’t know they were meeting with Zuckerberg until just moments before he was introduced.
For a famous billionaire with a movie — “The Social Network” — based his life, she described Zuckerberg as “a regular guy.”
“Had I known he was going to wear a T-shirt and jeans, I would have worn an FOA shirt,” she said.
Erion and others spoke with Zuckerberg for about 90 minutes, as the group described the opioid crisis in the area and the struggles with addiction that many in the area face.
“He wanted to get a better understanding of how people get addicted, what the process is to getting better and what is required for recovery,” she said.
Dayton has been hit hard by the heroin crisis. Montgomery County experienced a record 355 confirmed or suspected overdoses during 2016.
Erion said Zuckerberg didn’t pledge any money to helping fight the drug issues in the area, but is hopeful his stature will help bring attention to the ongoing crisis.
“He’s so well-known that if he didn’t put any money towards it, he has the vehicle to make change,” Erion said.
RELATED: Heroin’s Impact: A Special Report
Zuckerberg said in January that he was challenging himself to visit people in all 50 states.
On Friday, Zuckerberg was the mystery guest for dinner with the Moore family of Newton Falls, about 55 miles southeast of Cleveland. Daniel Moore said he and his wife, Lisa, found out Zuckerberg would be their guest just 20 minutes before dinner.
After leaving Dayton on Saturday, Zuckerberg toured South Bend, Ind., with Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
This story contains information from the Associated Press.
WHAT MARK ZUCKERBERG POSTED ABOUT HIS DAYTON VISIT ON FACEBOOK
I just sat down with people recovering from opioid addiction and people helping them get treatment in Dayton, Ohio.
The opioid epidemic is one of the worst public health crises we’ve faced. More people die from it today than died from AIDS at its peak, or that die from car accidents and gun violence. The rate is still growing quickly.
The pull from opioids is incredibly powerful. A man I met said that when he saw someone overdose, his first thought was who that person’s dealer was so he could get better stuff. Another woman who was forced to give up her kids said it wasn’t because she didn’t love them. She just needed the feeling from getting high more.
Everyone in Dayton is affected by this. One woman told me her daughter, who is a recovering heroin addict, got promoted to hostess at the restaurant where she works because the last hostess overdosed in the bathroom. Another woman whose husband is a police officer said her family hears overdose calls coming over the radio every night. The Dayton police department once responded to 29 overdose calls in a single day. She’s worried it’s all going to seem normal to her young daughter.
Treating an epidemic like this is complicated and the people I met say it’s years from even peaking. But they also came back to the importance of connection and relationships.
A big part of recovery is surrounding yourself with people who are a positive influence and will help you avoid situations where you might relapse. You can’t get dragged back down. One woman told me she’ll talk someone down who is about to use, but she won’t go out to a drug house to find them. She has to look out for herself first.
Purpose is also really important. One man who has been in recovery for seven years told me, “Most addicts have destroyed personal relationships, stolen from their family members, sold their cars for drugs, and they have to rebuild all of that. We have to help them develop a sense that they have a goal in life, and we have to do it one addict at a time.”
The people I met also talked about how important it is to reduce the stigma that comes from being a recovering addict. One woman who has been clean for a year told me, “If we’re in active addiction it doesn’t mean we’re not human. Even if we’re not living our potential at this moment we have a chance to do something with this life.” Another told me, “It’s important that addicts don’t end up as ‘those people.’ It’s not ‘those people,’ it’s your neighbor, and you need to be there to support them.”
This touches everyone. People I work closely with have had family members and high school friends die of overdoses. Ohio and communities all across the country have a long road ahead, but as someone told me at the end, “I’m hopeful because we’re talking about it.” Me too.