The Miami Valley’s opioid crisis and efforts to address it was a topic that brought Gary Gonnella, outreach coordinator of Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County, to the Rec West Enrichment Center on Friday. STAFF
Photo: WAYNE BAKER/STAFF
Photo: WAYNE BAKER/STAFF

Drug and alcohol abuse efforts draw dozens to Washington Twp. event

The Miami Valley’s opioid crisis and efforts to address it were topics that brought Gary Gonnella, outreach coordinator of Public Health Dayton & Montgomery County, and Jane Snyder, development director of Brigid’s Path, to the Rec West Enrichment Center in Washington Twp. on Friday. About 50 people attended.

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Brigid’s Path is the state’s first crisis care nursery for drug-exposed newborns, Snyder said. It also is the only center in Ohio that treats infants going through withdrawal after being exposed to certain drugs in the womb, and only one of two places in the country that specifically treats babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome.

“NAS is 10 times worse than the flu for these drug-exposed babies,” she said. “We do work with the families and mothers while the baby is being helped and also work with Children’s Services.”

Addiction can reach anyone, and that is how Snyder actually ended up working for the non-profit.

“My sister was an alcoholic, and I lost her back in 2015,” Snyder said. “After that, I was looking for something to fill that void and found that Brigid’s Path was a place that delivered hope, and that’s how I got started with it.”

According to the Ohio Department of Health, in 2017, nearly 2,000 infants in Ohio were treated for neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), which occurs when babies withdraw from opioids they are exposed to during pregnancy.

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She shared how the Jill Kingston founded the organization after providing foster care for the drug-exposed babies and how the Dayton area community - from businesses to citizens - have reached out to help it grow.

“And as always we need volunteers to help us continue,” Snyder said. “There is always a need for ‘cuddlers’ to be with babies at all hours because you know, they don’t have a clock.”

The success story of Ashley Evans, who grew up in Dayton and now lives in Columbus, was shared. Evans has been in recovery for more than a year, and it began when her daughter, Olivia, was born. Olivia was cared for by Brigid’s Path in Kettering as Evans battled her drug addiction.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump invited Evans to attend this year’s State of the Union Address.

“That was very special for all of us,” Snyder said.

Gonnella weighed 130 pounds the first time he entered treatment for drug and alcohol addiction in 1981, and he’s been in recovery every since.

He said talk of what constitutes a crisis in this country has centered around the border crisis, but drug and alcohol addiction should top the list.

Gonnella shared that more than 72,000 people in the U.S. are believed to have died from drug overdoses in 2017.

That 2017 toll is higher than all U.S. military casualties in the Iraq and Vietnam wars combined, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, a number that left audience members surprised.

“If you add in the alcohol numbers, it just dwarfs that,” Gonnella said.

He said that legalization of marijuana could lead to more problems for the youth in the area and around the country.

“I don’t call marijuana a gateway or a stepping stone drug. For me at that moment I started using it - it was my drug,” he said. “I was genetically pre-disposed so it was no secret that it helped me develop an addictive lifestyle. When I was 15 and smoking marijuana, for me, it was pretty devastating.”

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One group working to to reduce underage drinking and other drug use in the area is the South Suburban Coalition. Formed a decade ago, the group is an eight-community coalition advocating for youth by promoting healthy choices.

The coalition is made up of youth, parents, businesses, professionals and other community or school volunteers from Centerville, Kettering, Miami Township, Miamisburg, Moraine, Oakwood, Washington Township and West Carrollton.

Centerville School Board President David Roer chairs the South Suburban Coalition and said the BOLD students have taken ownership of tackling the drug and alcohol awareness message.

“They are working on developing programs and have ideas coming through everyday,” Roer said.

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