Cuyahoga Falls High School (Ohio) hosted a program focusing on opiate use and addiction on April 29, 2015. The school district hosted the event in conjunction with the County of Summit ADM Board and Western Reserve Hospital. Here is a video from the event.

Cuyahoga Falls -- Sisters and a grieving parent stepped out of the shadows last week, hoping to remove the stigma around family members' battles with heroin and other drugs. They urged audience members not to turn a blind eye when hearing about another drug-related death, warning, "That's somebody's kid … and it could be yours." Don't be in denial, don't be embarrassed to seek help and don't wait to take action was their moving message.

The Cuyahoga Falls City School District staged its first "Let's Talk" forum, focusing on opiate use and addiction April 29 at Falls High. The district hosted the event in conjunction with the County of Summit ADM Board and Western Reserve Hospital.

Among the evening's featured speakers were Rob Brandt, who shared the story of his son, Robby, who died of a heroin overdose at age 20. Robby became addicted to prescription pain killers after having his wisdom teeth out in high school, his dad reported. He struggled with getting and staying sober, but eventually relapsed, using heroin after being clean for 110 days. After Robby's death, Brandt and his family decided to tell his story as a means of raising awareness of warning signs they now realize they'd missed.

"I was one of those parents: "This could never happen in our house,'" Brandt said. "We were one step away from the Cleavers, maybe closer to the Brady Bunch. Addiction could never happen in our house. I never thought that could be our reality, until it was."

Three seniors from Lake High School opened up about their families' struggles after losing a child to heroin. In less than one year, each of the girls lost a brother to the drug. Amanda Westbury's brother, Tyler, 20, died in November 2013; Alaina Warner's brother, Zach, 24, died in May 2014, and Taylor Bornstein's brother, Tyler, 23, died in September 2014.

"Living with an addict changes everything," according to Bornstein. "I don't think my brother ever thought using would affect me how it did, because I've developed problems like depression and anxiety.

"Living with an addict is very scary," Alaina Warner said. "My brother was very violent. He was always angry and I was his anger outlet."

"I didn't want anything to do with my brother," Amanda Westbury said. "I didn't understand that his addiction literally took over his brain and his body and that he couldn't just put it aside and walk away."

"When I became mayor a little over a year ago," Don Walters said, "I realized that there was a problem here and there was really nothing being done. There was no education in the schools, there was nothing to really deal with the problem. A lot of denial and it's not uncommon." For that reason, Walters said he launched the "Not Me, I'm Drug Free" campaign; the community partnership was unveiled last May to combat drug abuse, especially meth and heroin, with positive reinforcement in Cuyahoga Falls. By pledging to stay drug-free, youngsters earn "free-wards," perks from area businesses. Walters said the success of the effort depends on the collaboration of many segments of the city, from parents and teachers, to law enforcement, businesses and community leaders. Walters said the goal is to reinforce good choices. Youngsters can use their pledge cards for free admission to Water Works Family Aquatic Center, free rentals at Family Video and free ear buds from Western Reserve Hospital, as well as free food from participating area restaurants. "Every time they get a punch [on their card], they're reminded … how important that pledge is to them," Walters said, adding, "It's going to have a big effect on the future -- it's going to change the culture."

The mayor also noted with pride that the city's police department was the first in Summit County to have the drug Naloxone Hydrochloride or Narcan available to its officers. If administered in time Walters said Narcan may reverse the effects of heroin and opiate drug overdose. Police Chief Jack Davis estimated "nine or 10" lives have been saved through police officers' administration of Narcan since September 2014.

"They can recover … I've seen it in my family," the mayor shared. "I've been all the way to the bottom, I've been all the way to the top, and I'll tell you, there is a bright future for a lot of people."

According to Walters, the Cuyahoga Falls Crime Fighters Anonymous Tip Line also has been a "successful" tool in the city's crime-fighting arsenal. Anyone can call 330-971-TIPS to report a crime in Cuyahoga Falls, the mayor said, the line does not have caller ID and is answered live 24 hours a day.

"We're not one to bury our heads in the sand and do nothing," the mayor said.

"We just want to do everything we can about the problem to save lives," Police Chief Jack Davis reported, adding, "We are using enforcement as well as education in this fight against opiate addiction."

Email: ewalsh@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9419

Facebook: EllinWalshFallsNewsPress

Twitter: @ EllinWalsh_RPC

Click here to purchase photos from this event.