For the last two weeks the Dayton Daily News has helped to sponsor forums in five communities in southwest Ohio, where the opioid crisis has hit particularly hard. The forums were part of an effort by Your Voice Ohio, a collaborative of 30 news organizations across the state, to hear from those who are struggling to deal with an epidemic that kills thousands every year. The goal was not to attach blame, but to give people a voice in finding solutions. Here are seven themes that emerged from the sessions:
1. The crisis is affecting all of us: Brenda Campbell, a social worker in Fayette County: “It costs all of us when they’re in jail. It costs all of us when their kids have to go to foster care.” People at the forums expressed frustration with public attitudes that addicts with multiple overdoses should be left to die, or that it’s “not my problem.” Said one woman in Middletown: “That was me before my son died.”
2. Young people need more education about opioids: Kelly Yates, a counselor who recently moved to Ohio from Florida: “It’s an epidemic here in Washington Court House. It’s bad. There’s nothing for the youth at all here. This is something that starts with the adults, but it ends up with the youth. And that’s where we need to nip it in the bud.”
3. More treatment facilities are needed, particularly in rural areas: Zach Gullufsen of Washington Court House: “All the people with the good services, they’re all in the metropolitan areas. Rural people don’t have access to that. We need the money to attract those doctors and start those services in the rural areas … You need professionals that know what they’re doing and know how to fight this.”
4. A stigma about addiction persists, and it often causes addicts to avoid seeking help: Kristi Lobaugh of St. Clair Twp. in Butler County, whose brother has an opioid addiction: “There are some people that think, ‘just stop.’ And it’s not that easy.” Lobaugh says even those who want help can’t afford the treatment: “When you have a person that wants to get help, it’s really not as affordable and accessible as some of these agencies would have you believe,” she said.
5. Bold solutions are called for: Safe injection sites – introduced in a couple of cities around the country - are designated places where addicts can go to get clean needles, and use drugs they know to be safe from fentanyl or other additives. Paula Detrick of Troy, whose son is in an ongoing battle with addiction said more of these harm reduction programs are needed to keep people alive until they can eventually get help: “There are people coming out of these treatment centers that are dead within hours of leaving,” she said. “It’s a whole new ballgame whenever we’re dealing with fentanyl and carfentanil.”
6. Better coordination of services is needed: Several counties maintain comprehensive resource guides on their websites, but many participants said people don’t know where to look or how to get help. Some advocated for a more streamlined system for intake and referrals, or a one-stop shop for the region.
7. Medical professionals need to be part of the strategy for tackling the opioid epidemic: Some physicians feel they’ve been made a scapegoat for the opioid crisis. Dr. Craig Cleveland, an internal medicine doctor who is now the program physician at Sunrise Treatment Center in Cincinnati, said doctors need to change the way they treat underlying issues like mental health and pain, but legislating restrictions on prescribing opioids is potentially dangerous, and could cause harm those with real pain management needs. Cleveland: “The top down mandates are coming from people who don’t really realize what’s important.They’re not talking to the people who are in the trenches treating patients.”
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