Cuyahoga Falls -- In an effort to educate the families of opiate addicts and to arm them with Narcan in the event of an overdose, a seminar featuring a recovery advocate and a physician took place Sept. 29 at the Natatorium.
"Our goal is to share information about the heroin epidemic [and] to train, with professionals, how to use the Narcan system through a grant to Summit County," said local real estate agent Ed Davidian who hosted the seminar on behalf of its sponsor, Parents of Prodigals of Christ Community Chapel in Hudson.
Twenty Narcan kits, each containing two doses, were handed out at the outreach group's eighth seminar. Davidian said the seminars are effective.
"I bumped into a couple on the street who attended the last seminar in Hudson and they thanked me for the seminar," he said. "They saved their 21-year-old son's life and then he was transferred to the hospital by the paramedics and finished his 45- or 60-days at Glen Beigh in Cleveland."
Davidian told about another man, 22, someone he knows personally and described as once a "mean, cantankerous brat" who overdosed on heroin and was revived once by his girlfriend and twice by paramedics. He was in jail for six months and now is in a treatment center in Clinton.
"Cody came to know the Lord six weeks ago and was baptized," Davidian said. "He is a completely new person. That's my purpose for doing this, to share the Lord with people. And you can't do it when they're dead. You have to keep them alive long enough to hear the good word."
Narcan is a brand name for Naloxone, an opiate antagonist drug that preserves brain, heart and lung functions and prevents brain damage, explained China Darrington, who said she was a former drug addict and now a recovery advocate with XIX Recovery Support Services. "What we're trying to do is keep opiate involved addicts breathing long enough until they can find their pathway to their own personal recovery," Darrington said. "We can help facilitate that pathway, unfortunately, as a person who is in long-term healing from recovery from addiction, no one could have done that for me. No one could have brought me to the point of understanding how much pain and misery and suffering in addiction that I actually needed to have."
Darrington, 45, said she was involved with drugs from age 16 until she was 32, and her drug of choice was needle-injected heroin. It just so happened the day Darrington was speaking, Sept. 29, was her 13th anniversary of being clean. During those 13 years, Darrington underwent seven drug treatments.
Organizers of the seminar showed an instructional video produced by Project DAWN (Deaths Avoided With Naloxone), a community-based drug overdose prevention and education program.
Dr. Ann DiFrangia of Cleveland Clinic/Akron General Medical Center/ Edwin Shaw said the video was made only several years ago but its report that four drug overdose deaths occur in Ohio each day is low.
"It's way more than that now," DiFrangia said. "This has done nothing but get worse. It's well over 20 deaths a day."
DiFrangia said heroin is easier to get today because it's synthetic and there is no need for the poppy plant or drug cartels from Mexico or China. "Since the patent for carfentanyl is owned by the U.S. Army it's public information," she said. "There's an eight-step process to make it and you can Google it and find out [how to do it]."
According to Darrington, although she is a mother, she had difficulty putting her children before her drugs. "I loved my children, but I still couldn't manage my addiction and put them first," she said.
"The drugs do only one thing really, really well they distance myself from authentic human feeling and connection. So I can't really perceive how much pain I'm causing the people who love and care for me when I'm currently under the influence of the drug."
Darrington said she was unaware of the devastating effect her addiction had on her family and friends until she freed herself from the grip drugs had on her. She said many of those close to her "shut down" toward her or showed what many call tough love.
"It's more of a logical consequence rather than a punitive consequence," Darrington said. "They had to protect themselves and let me go because I was refusing the help they were offering."
Clean since 2003, Darrington pointed out heroin was a "completely different beast" than it is today. The average bag of heroin in 2003 was 30 percent pure, she said. Today, it can be 50 to 85 percent pure, and additives such as fentanyl and carfentanyl are now being used. These additives, used by the dealers to "add a little fire" to their product to make people come back for more, are causing people to overdose and die, she said.
Many overdoses are occurring in suburban settings, Darrington said, because the users are returning to their homes where they feel comfortable and safe and because opiate addiction is crossing all boundaries of racial, social and economic category. She said today you can buy heroin through an app on your phone and it will be delivered to your home. The dealers don't carry guns, travel with little extra drugs on hand and often refuse to serve blacks and Latinos, according to Darrington.
She said drug users need to know there is no shame in seeking help for themselves or penalty for seeking help for others. While there is a Good Samaritan law that promises amnesty for a person calling 911 when another overdoses, Darrington said, there is another law that holds responsible the provider or sharer of the drug as if he were a drug dealer.
"I want everyone who comes to the realization that their drug use has gone too far to be able to throw up the red flag and know in our heart of hearts there are people who want to help us right then and there, and not stick our nose in the dirt like a bad dog," she said.