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Community, readers offer ideas to solve addiction epidemic

One of the goals of our newspaper’s new Path Forward initiative is to have meaningful conversations with our community and readers about the region’s most pressing issues as we cover them.

In launching the first stories looking at the opioid crisis over the last week, we asked our readers to share their thoughts on what a recovered community would look like and we got some thoughtful responses.

“A recovered community doesn’t place a negative stigma on drug use. A recovered community doesn’t look down upon others who use drugs,” said a reader named Zack from Centerville. “A community can’t recover until it first starts seeing itself in a better light.”

RELATED: Can Dayton go from ‘overdose’ capital to a model for recovery?

We also got a lot of suggestions about what can be done to fix the area’s addiction problem, including increasing education and prevention efforts, handling it as a public health crisis, and reducing stigma.

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“Make some progress towards actually healing addicts and provide adequate recovery systems that focus on positive mental and physical health, as opposed to incarceration which is clearly helping no one except the prison owners,” said one reader from Wilmington.

“We need a complete system of care instead of a bunch of services and programs that are dispersed all over the county,” said Thomas Hardy of Dayton.

RELATED: How can Dayton recover from the opioid crisis? 10 change makers weigh in

“We appreciate the Dayton Daily News tackling the opioid crisis with a fresh, solutions-oriented perspective and look forward to seeing what The Path Forward can do for our community,” said Jonas Thom, vice president of behavioral health at CareSource.

As Ohio’s largest Medicaid managed-care provider, the Dayton-based company plays a big role in helping people access addiction treatment, so it is very interested in innovative solutions, Thom said.

“Medication-assisted treatment, recovery housing, vocational services, peer support, food security — these are among the many different needs people in recovery need to get to self-sufficiency,” Thom said. “Working with hospitals, community behavioral health providers, criminal justice resources and faith-based partners, we hope this effort helps the community see the epidemic from every angle, that there is no ‘one’ path to healing, and that there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference.”

Immigration a factor?

One common thread brought up by numerous readers is questioning whether there is a connection between immigration policy and the opioid crisis, with several people blaming the area’s drug problems on illegal immigrants or because, in their words, Dayton is a so-called sanctuary city.

“As long as there’s no border security, criminals will be running plenty of drugs into Dayton due to the 70-75 exchange,” said Randy Caperton on Facebook.

Dayton has not declared itself a sanctuary city and Police Chief Richard Biehl has stated that his officers contact and cooperate with immigration authorities about suspects.

We’ve done reporting in the past about how drugs arrive in Ohio, including heroin from Mexico and synthetics like fentanyl via the mail from China. In addition, studies have shown that 80 percent of those who use heroin started by abusing prescription pills, often legally prescribed by their doctors.

RELATED: Dayton mother of 7 working to repair relationships after addiction

Ohio is among more than a dozen states suing drug manufacturers for allegedly downplaying how addictive their products were and pushing vast amounts of those drugs into the market.

Whether or not there is any evidence that immigration policy has impacted the number of people addicted or dying from drugs in our community is something we can explore in the future based on this feedback.

Prioritizing prevention

Others talked about the need to shift money from incarceration to prevention.

“What’s needed is a war on demand for drugs not more of the failed same,” said William Estep on Facebook. He asked what the impact would be if we took the hundreds of millions being spent on Drug Enforcement Agency efforts and instead spent that money on scientifically proven treatment and prevention programs.

RELATED: ‘We’re making a difference’: A day with Dayton’s overdose response team

Joe Brafford of Beavercreek noted that many of the people interviewed so far by the newspaper focused on talking about treatment and recovery efforts, rather than prevention.

“Sorry, but that is not going to fix anything or make this a recovered community,” he said. “Prevention is the only real long-term solution to this problem. What does prevention look like?”

What’s next?

We’re taking all the ideas we heard from our readers to help shape our continuing coverage of this issue.

In the coming weeks we’ll dig into a number of issues surrounding addiction, including:

  • As local companies say they struggle to fill jobs, what barriers exist to getting those in recovery back into the workforce? What solutions to handling addiction in the workplace have employers in our region or elsewhere found?
  • Following the money. How are our local government and nonprofit agencies spending the billions of dollars allocated to fight the opioid epidemic? Is that money going to proven solutions?
  • Beyond opioids, is our region prepared to address other addiction issues including a resurgence of methamphetamine use?
  • Is more regulation needed for treatment centers and sober living homes as scams have been exposed nationwide?

In digging into all these questions and more, we’ll be seeking solutions and ideas that the community can own and make a real impact on moving our region forward.

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